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Divorce is usually a very emotional event. This is especially true if one of the spouses wants the divorce and the other does not or cannot accept the other spouse’s decision. If children are involved they can feel destabilized by the unpredictability of their parents separating. For everyone involved, this can cause anxiety and depression.
There are things that can be done to make it easier on yourself and your children. First and foremost, let your children know that they are loved by both parents and that both of you will continue to provide them with care and support. Being able to reassure your child will allow them to not only continue in a normalized state of emotions, but will show them that do not have to be more loyal or loving to one parent over the other. To protect your child from emotional damage, here are some suggestions to keep in mind when going through a divorce:
- Avoid the Blame Game. It may make you feel better to blame your spouse for not working on the marriage. This is especially true if one of the spouses engages in an extramarital relationship. However, the desire to blame your spouse in order make yourself like an innocent victim, can have the unintended consequence of emotionally cutting your child. Although at times it is difficult to separate your personal emotions from your child, the child’ emotions are usually around loss of their joint-parent family and not necessarily your reasons to be angry.
- Avoid using disparaging remarks about the other parent to your child or around 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. Children are very perceptive and can feel your pain. Bringing children 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 and if you insist that the other parent is somehow bad, then you are telling your child that half of him/her is bad. That clearly does not foster healthy self-esteem and normal emotional development.
- Honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to your children and your divorce. I have heard 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. Do not 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. Each parent can only be responsible for his/her own actions. 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 them right in the middle of any parental conflict. If you believe that your child should be told the detail of why your marriage broke down with the other parent, then you must also recognize that you are placing your emotional needs before your children’s emotional stability. This act of poor judgment may be construed as your inability to place your child’s emotional well-being above your own emotional need to involve your child in an adult issue.
- Don’t use your child as your therapist. Remember, that you are the parent It may seem obvious, but the role of parent and child can get blurred with emotional upheaval and changes in living situations. A parent in any emotional pain may not be able to think clearly about the role distinctions That parent may consciously or unconsciously feel that the only way to purge the subconscious feeling that the other spouse “wronged” him/her is to talk or somehow express to the child his/her feelings about the other parent. Retaining the services of a good therapist to assist you through this painful and difficult time in your life will be the most therapeutic way to explore your emotions.
- 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 resolve the loss of his/her intact family and deal with the uncertainty of the future. Questions arise as to how often will your child be able to spend time with the other parent? Or 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. 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 communicating with the child’s teachers, coaches, and health care providers in order to understand how the divorce is impacting the child while outside the home. Sometimes even the use of a child therapist will provide your child with a safe place to talk and find the tools necessary to help the child deal with the 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.