Divorce is usually a very emotional event for everyone involved. This is especially true if one of the spouses wants the divorce and the other does not or is not able to accept the other spouse’s decision. If there are children, then they can feel destabilized by the unpredictability of their parents separating. For all, this decision can manifest itself in anxiety and depression.
There are things that can be done to make a divorce easier on yourself and your children. First, let your children know they are loved by both parents and that you and their other parent will continue to provide them with support and care. This reassurance is the foundation for not only allowing your child to continue in a normalized state of emotional development, but shows them that they do not have to be more loyal or loving to one parent over the other. Also, it greatly diminishes “parentification” of a child, which is child's personal needs are sacrificed in order to take care of the needs of the parent; a kind of role reversal. Here are some suggestions of how to protect your child from emotional damage during a divorce:
1. Avoid the Blame Game.
It may make you feel better to blame your spouse for not hanging onto the marriage or working at it harder. This is especially acute if one of the spouses engages in an extramarital relationship. However, your desire to blame your spouse in order make yourself feel like an innocent victim or to emotionally cut him/her, can often time have the unintended consequence of emotionally cutting your child. Sometimes it is difficult to separate your personal emotions from your child, but your child’s emotions are usually around loss and not necessarily your reasons to be angry.
In the same vein, it is imperative that you avoid using disparaging remarks about the other parent to your child or in the earshot of your child. No matter how deeply hurt you are, it is important to remember that you are not the only one that is in pain. Your children are very perceptive and can feel your pain and may also be feeling emotions about the loss of their joint-parent family. Bringing them into spousal conflict only inflicts pain to them and you would not want to intentionally cause your child temporary or permanent emotional harm. Remember, your child is biologically half of the other parent. If you insist that the other parent is somehow bad, then you are telling your child that half of him/her is bad. Clearly does not foster healthy self-esteem and normal emotional development.
2. Honesty is not the best policy.
Honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to your children and your divorce. Many times, parents say that their children have the right to know the “truth”. First, very few things in life are black and white- right and wrong—truth or lie. Most perceptions are very subjective and as most of us have been told, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, don’t drag your children into your version of the truth and hopefully your spouse will have the same consideration for your child regarding their “version” of the truth. But each parent can only be responsible for his/her own actions. So, bad behavior by one parent is not justification for the other parent to act with bad behavior. Furthermore, involving your child in this very adult-issue is not only confusing for a child, but places him/her squarely in the middle of parental conflict. Do you really believe your child should be told the details of why your marriage broke down with the other parent? If your answer is yes, then you must also recognize that you have just placed your emotional needs above your child’s need for emotional stability. This poor judgment could be construed as your inability to place your child’s emotional well-being above your own emotional need to involve your child in this very adult issue.
3. Your Child is Not Your Therapist.
So, don’t use your child as your therapist. Remember, you are the parent and your child is the child. It may seem obvious, but the role of parent and child can get blurred with emotional upheaval and changes in living situations. When a parent is in emotional pain and not able to think clearly about the role distinctions, sometimes there is a subconscious need to prove the other spouse “wronged” him/her. That parent may consciously or unconsciously feel that the only way to purge that feeling is to talk or somehow express to the child his/her feelings about the other parent. Exploring emotions and gaining understanding is the goal of therapy. Therefore, rather than involve your child, retain the services of a good therapist to assist you through this difficult, painful time in your life.
4. Be mindful of your child’s emotional state.
Just as you are trying to navigate these unchartered waters of divorce, your child is trying to reconcile the loss of his/her intact family and deal with the uncertainty of the future. How often will your child be able to spend time with the other parent? Will the child be able to stay in the same house or school system? As with adults, each child’s reaction, understanding, acceptance and overall perception of a situation is different. Similar to adults, some children need more support systems in place to help them feel as safe and secure as possible. It is important to be mindful of your child’s emotional state by communication with the child’s teachers, coaches, health care providers and the like so you can understand how the divorce is impacting the child while outside the home. Sometimes the use of a child therapist will provide your child with a safe haven for confidential communications, and the tools necessary to help the child deal with the stress of changes within the family unit.
In summary, when divorce occurs and there is a child involved, the decisions you make and the way you conduct yourself as a parent have a direct impact on how well your child will fare during this difficult transition in your lives. If you are mindful, attentive and sensitive to the developmental needs of your child, then you have contributed as much as possible to their development into well-adjusted adults.
To speak with a lawyer about a divorce or other family law matter, contact Mavrides Law in Boston, Newton, or Quincy, MA. To schedule an initial consultation, call 617-723-9900 or contact the firm at firstname.lastname@example.org