Whether you’re contemplating divorce, in the process, or transitioning after your own divorce, there’s one thing that’s crucial for all parents to keep in mind …
Fighting around the children does more damage to them than divorce itself. That’s why as parents we need to be diligent in monitoring our children — as well as our own behavior — to safeguard our kids from emotional and psychological damage.
A study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence* shows that children exposed to constant parental bickering are more likely to be depressed. They are also more prone to expressing other “problem behaviors,” including substance abuse, bullying, aggression and poor school grades.
Here are some essential behaviors to avoid during and after divorce to protect your children from the negative effects of conflict on their psyches and emotional wellbeing.
Never battle where kids can see or hear you. Little ears can pick up phone conversations as well as conflict behind closed bedroom doors.Parents often don’t think about the psychological impact of their arguments on children. It changes who they are and how they feel about themselves and life in general. In addition they feel helpless about being able to “fix” the problem and often blame themselves for being the cause (even when you tell them otherwise)!
Never lie or play one parent off the other to win your child’s favors. Telling lies about, bashing or demeaning your former spouse confuses, hurts and angers children in serious ways. Keep personal resentments personal and don’t use your kids as sounding boards. They’ll resent you for it and pay the price in stress, anxiety, depression and/or aggression. As they age, they’re also more likely to resent you … and many adult children of divorce disassociate with their parents when they learn truths about how the divorce was handled. You may “win” in the short-term, but your children will hold you accountable in the decades to come. Take the high road and remember, your children love both parents and don’t want to be forced to take sides. Reach out for professional help from a Coach, therapist, divorce group or other resources that can support you so you don’t need to enmesh your children in your personal drama.
Never let your children feel unimportant to you. Too many divorced parents ignore their children during custodial visits or hand them off to other caregivers so they can work, date, have free time or catch up on chores. Children need to share attentive time with parents. When they don’t, it creates conflict and anxiety. When you’re with your children remind them of how much you love them and give them your time. When you can’t, explain the circumstances and make plans for when you can. Then be fully there so they feel valued and valuable! Equally important, never let your child feel they’re competing with a new love interest in your life. Your children need you more than ever after a divorce and shouldn’t ever feel ignored, overlooked or insignificant in your life.
Married or divorced, the results of parental conflict or inattention are the same: children wounded on a deep emotional level that can scar them for life. Children only get one childhood. Don’t they deserve the very best you can provide for them – your love, your attention and the security of your presence? Be the person you want them to model themselves after. You’ll never regret it – nor will they!
(*January, 2012: Journal of Research on Adolescence)
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, her free articles, coaching services, programs and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting, visit http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© Rosalind Sedacca All rights reserved.