Some parents think once they are divorced and most of the decisions have been made, the worst is behind them. Unfortunately, parenting after divorce is a week by week experience. Your success depends on the decisions you make, your attitude toward your situation and your compassion for your innocent children.
You may have heard it all before, but smart parents quiz themselves regularly to see if they are not falling into some of the traps of destructive post-divorce parenting. If you find yourself making any of these mistakes, it’s never too late to make amends. You may have to alter decisions, adjust some behaviors, give yourself an attitude adjustment and even apologize to your children – or to their Dad! Keep in mind, we all make mistakes that we regret. It’s part of the learning process – especially when we’re parents. It’s far better to set the course straight today than to reap the consequences years from now when your adult children ask: Mom (or Dad), what were you thinking?
Professionals all agree these are some of the most emotionally damaging mistakes to children that parents make when coping with divorce or separation:
- Fighting around your children – even on the phone or in another room if they can hear you. It does more damage than you can imagine!
- Asking your children to bear the weight of making decisions or choosing sides. It fills them with guilt, anxiety and confusion.
- Failing to remind your children that none of this is in any way their fault. Kids tend to blame themselves for your problems unless you tell them differently.
- Forgetting to emphasize that Mom and Dad will always be their Mom and Dad and always continue to love them — even after the divorce! Fear of losing Mom or Dad is an enormous emotional burden.
- Confiding adult details to children in order to attract their allegiance, sympathy or emotional support. Save that for adult friends and therapists.
- Disparaging, putting down or in any way disrespecting their other parent — regardless how justified or tempting — because it creates confusion, guilt, sadness, insecurity and low self-esteem in your children
- Alienating or keeping your children from having an ongoing loving relationship with their other parent (for your own selfish reasons!) Often they’ll resent you for this when they are grown!
- Asking your children to spy, act as messengers between both parents or provide inappropriate details about the other parent’s home life. Let them enjoy their childhood without adult responsibilities on their shoulders!
- Lying to your children in order to manipulate their attention or sympathy. This is selfish and hurtful. They’ll resent you for it when they’re adults!
- Getting back at your ex by making decisions aimed at hurting them – even though your children will pay the emotional price (such as moving a great distance away, not inviting your ex to a graduation or other important occasion, punishing them for financial problems by limiting visitation, etc.)
All of these behaviors are bound to backfire on you. If not immediately, then down the line as your children grow and understand more about the world. A good question to keep in mind when making all decisions about your children is: What will my kids say to me about how I handled the divorce when they are adults?
You and your children can survive — and even thrive after divorce. Think before you leap and give your children the best possible opportunity to face the changes ahead by providing them with security, compassion and love.