By Dan Blair, a marriage counselor and family counselor.
You can make a difference when it comes to insulating your children from the harmful effects of unavoidable divorce. Children of divorce are most affected by ongoing conflict, absent parents, and financial shifts in lifestyle. Moreover, how the child responds to the divorce is modeled by how each parent deals with it. Generally, if the parents are coping well, the children are coping well.
Even though one is angry and needs to “declare the truth” by criticizing their ex, children pay the price due to ongoing conflict between parents. Children and adolescents see themselves as extensions of their parents, and so negative comments directed at a parent impact the child, probably more than it does the other parent. The result may be that the child has difficulty remaining close to either parent. Particularly harmful is creating a situation which kids have to hide information or their feelings. Another way kids are impacted by divorce occurs when a parent “projects” their anxiety or depression onto the kids, assuming that the kids feel the way the parent feels. Or, if a parent is transparent about their anxiety or depression, children and adolescents worry about it. Not giving your children more to worry about when it comes to adult problems is a gift that keeps on giving.
The loss of parental involvement leaves children and adolescents mired in self-blame. Developing a new “normal” with consistent involvement from both parents reinforces that the child is worthwhile and lovable. For the child who loses a parent in a divorce is a deep loss.
Though one parent may resist the cost of child or spousal support due to their own fears of financial ruin, parents should consider both sides. On the one side, the nonresidential parent may have difficulty maintaining financial stability, or the residential parent may have difficulty. Even though one may be blamed for the divorce, punishing your spouse financially punishes the children. One way divorce mediation can be helpful is by increasing flexibility to create a balance for both parents financially for the benefit of the children.
One sign to watch for are changes in the children. Are they suddenly “helpful” and over-responsible? Are they withdrawn or is there a loss of interest in usual activities? Any change in sleeping or eating patterns? Are they more emotional than usual? See Depression Screening.
Here are some rules that protect children from some of the harmful effects of unavoidable divorce:
- Foster affection and respect between the children and the other parent.
- Refrain from discussing the conduct of the other parent in the presence of the children except in a laudatory or complimentary way. Do not call the other parent disparaging names or subject the children to others that are disparaging the other parent.
- Protect the children from parental conflict. Don’t discuss financial matters, or disputes with the other parent, either directly to or in the presence of the children.
- Avoid sending or soliciting information about the other parent through the children.
- Subject proposed activities or vacations with the children to mutual approval before discussing plans with the children.