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Divorce can be a very emotional event for all involved. This is especially true when the decision to divorce was not mutual and children are involved. Oftentimes children feel destabilized by the unpredictability of their parents separation, and this feeling of insecurity can manifest itself in anxiety and depression.
To help protect your child from emotional damage, here are some suggestions to keep in mind when going through a divorce:
1. Make Sure they Know they are Loved and Supported.
First, let your children know they are loved by both parents and that you both will continue to provide them with care, support, and love. This reassurance is the foundation for allowing your child to continue their normal and healthy emotional development, but also demonstrates to them that they do not have to be more loyal or loving to one parent. By remaining your child that you support them, you are greatly diminishing the “parentification” of a child, which is when child’s personal needs are sacrificed in order to take care of the emotional needs of the parent during a divorce- a kind of role reversal.
2. Avoid the Blame Game.
It may make you feel better to blame your spouse for not working harder at your marriage. This is especially acute if one of the spouses engages in an affair, or is the party who decided to end the marriage in the first place. 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 destroying your child. Sometimes it is difficult to hide your negative personal emotions from your child during a divorce, but it is important to remember that your child’s emotions and reaction to the situation are in many ways dependent on the reaction you reveal to your child.
3. Honesty is not always the best policy.
Honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to your children and your divorce. Many parents say that their children have the right to know the “truth,” even though the truth might hurt. First, very few things in life are black and white, right and wrong, truth or lie. Most perceptions are very subjective and this is especially true in a divorce. Therefore, don’t drag your children into your version of the truth. Hopefully your spouse will avoid dragging your children into their version of the truth. Each parent is responsible for their own actions, and bad behavior by one parent is not justification for the other parent to act with bad behavior. Involving your child in the dirty details of your divorce is not only confusing for a child, but places him/her squarely in the midst 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, you must recognize that you have placed your emotional needs above your child’s need for emotional stability. This poor judgment is evidence of your inability to place your child’s emotional well-being above your own emotional need to involve your child in this very adult issue, and must be remedied immediately- before your child is further harmed in the process.
In summary, when there is a child involved in a divorce, the decisions you make as a parent, and the way you conduct yourself in front of your child has a direct impact on how well your child will fare during this difficult life transition. If you remember to be mindful, attentive and sensitive to the developmental needs of your child, then you will help them develop into well-adjusted adults.