Advice From Children About Parents Divorce

By March 13, 2015 Children, Relationships
Child holding adult hands

In recent years I have met with increasing numbers  of children who are coming to me with issues   related to their parents separating or divorcing.   It has become evident that these children have no   recourse for the suffering they undertake at the   hands of their typically, well-meaning parents.   Although the separation/divorce is a legal issue the  collateral damage suffered by the children is not.   These children are not being physically mistreated   nor are they being neglected per-se. All of the   parents I’ve spoken with tell me that they would do   anything to protect their children and I know they   believe they mean it. I also believe that they truly  do not understand how their behavior is affecting  their children.

Separation/Divorce represents significant change in   the life of all members of a family including that of   the extended family (aunts, uncles, grandparents,   cousins, etc.). The event is most often announced   only after a time of turmoil in the core family. Fear   of an uncertain future tends to grow as a decision   to separate is announced. It seems to be a rare   event when both parents agree to separate and are   confident in their decision. It is more likely that one   parent or the other has made the decision, which   is then told to the other. At times the unhappiness   is hidden or ignored consciously but it tends to sit in the shadows of shame and grows until its   unmanageable (sometimes resulting in an extra- marital affair which adds to the emotional pain).

Children are emotional sponges – they feel us. They   do not necessarily understand marriage or divorce   but they do know that they prefer to feel good and   are very sensitive to people and events that result in   their feeling bad. They, like most of us, feel confused   when the words they receive conflict with the   emotions they feel.

Parents who separate/divorce well tend to be fairly   emotionally intelligent. They are able to differentiate between their children’s parent and their ex-spouse.  They do not speak ill of their children’s father or   mother and know that how they feel about their ex   is their issue not their children’s. They understand   that the child’s relationship with each parent and   their extended family is important. Parents with   well-adjusted children post-divorce sit on the same   bleachers at the soccer game; they speak respectfully   to each other in front of their children and their   children’s extended family. These parents deal with   their own emotions as step parents or step siblings   are introduced, rather than feeling the need to   discuss it with their children. Both parents (and their   partners) go to school events; they go to sporting   events and support their children. Some even eat   Thanksgiving dinner (and/or other ‘family’ events)   together and they enjoy it.

Well-adjusted kids can talk openly about the things   they did at mom’s or dad’s without concern for the   feelings of the parent they are addressing. These   children enjoy the freedom of sharing both of the   lives they live without being emotionally shutdown.   Children report being worried when their parents   interact, as they are afraid there will be a fight. They   (children of all ages) feel stressed and confused when   one parent talks negatively or complains to them   about the other parent. I’ve met many adults who   still carry the pain of having had to provide their   parent with emotional support as children. Children   (typically) need to have their own relationship with   both parents.

I have asked a number of children from divorced   families what advice they might have for the parents   who are divorcing. Their responses were:

  1. Be nice to each other it hurts your children when you’re not.
  2. Spend one on one time with the older kids.
  3. Call your kids at the other parent’s house to talk to them but don’t fight with the parent.
  4. Don’t lie to your kids – we know when there is something wrong.
  5. Keep your parenting styles similar.
  6. Let kids have a say on what they want.
  7. Pay attention to your child when they are at your house (put away the cell phones).
  8. Talk to your kids and get to know them as people.
  9. Let kids talk to the parent one on one and not always with the step parent present.
  10. Tell kids to talk to their parents, if the parents are listening, if not, talk to another trusted adult.

Author Carol Shirley

Carol successfully counsels adults, adolescents, families in a wide range of areas including anxiety, depression, grief, loss and adjustment issues. Carol is experienced in facilitating behavioral changes in children and adolescents, reducing sibling rivalry, enhancing low self-esteem and finding alternatives to aggressive or acting-out behavior. Carol also helps both children and parents cope with the turmoil of divorce, the challenge of single parenting and softening the turmoil associated with moving to a new home or community. Carols works with parents who are seeking to improve the communication, conflict resolution and/or discipline skills. Through all of this, her gentle, accepting and sensitive manner helps make the learning and counselling process feel safe. Carol is skilled in workshops or topics such as anxiety, depression, grief/loss, learning disabilities, assertiveness, and stress reduction both generally and in the workplace. Carol is experienced in conducting, analyzing and utilizing psycho-educational aptitude and educational tests. Her work often goes beyond merely identifying attitude or achievement levels as Carol’s findings determine the manner in which the student most readily takes in and processes information. By identifying this, Carol can then help students, parents and educators to construct an efficient approach that enhances the student’s educational achievement by custom- building a strategy and approach that maximizes learning success. Whenever appropriate, Carol is comfortable going to the school and directly communicating her findings to the teachers and resource teacher. Furthermore, her availability doesn’t end when the assessment and meetings are completed. As the year progresses, Carol can serve as an advocate for the student and bridge any misunderstanding between parent, teacher and student. This follow-through is critically important to minimize the chance of misunderstanding, labeling, frustration, acting-out behavior and ultimately long-term failure and deeply entrenched negative self-esteem.

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