the emotional toll of divorce on children

The emotional toll of divorce on children

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Following divorce, most parents are eager to see the children as frequently as possible. Often this desire results in heated battles inside or out of court focused around custody issues. In many cases co-parenting is the ideal option. A parenting plan is set into place and the children are moved between two homes giving them continued access to both parents.

While many parents may not want to “share” the children, they often realize this is in their kid’s best interest, and therefore come up with an arrangement they can live with. In families that don’t co-parent, usually one parent has primary custody of the children with the other parent taking the reins on a scheduled basis. This regular visitation may be over weekends, specific days per month, or periodic visits during the year if distance is a factor.

In some cases, however, one parent may decide not to play a part in the lives of their children following the divorce. This, of course, is one of the saddest outcomes of divorce. It makes children the innocent victims of circumstances far beyond their ability to understand.

Why would a parent choose to “divorce” from their children? While this choice is certainly difficult to comprehend, there are several factors that seem to influence this extreme behavior. For example, a parent may …

  • Feel it’s not in their own best interest for the children to be with them. Career, social or medical factors can all lead to a decision in this direction.
  • Believe it’s not in the children’s best interest to have contact with them. This may be due to drug, alcohol or other addictions, severe medical conditions, depression or other personal issues.
  • Assume having a family and all the responsibilities that go with it are keeping them from achieving their personal goals so they take off to follow their dreams — be it regarding career, sports, travel or other lifestyle factors.
  • Be moving into another scenario, such as marrying a new partner, and chooses not to bring the children into the picture. Sometimes other stepchildren or a new lover become a replacement.

While most often it’s the father who leaves the family dynamic following the divorce, that’s not always the case. Some mothers abandon the family — usually using one of the above rationalizations — leaving the children confused and emotionally devastated.

This, of course, gives the remaining parent an enormous physical and emotional burden to bear. They love and care for their children, but they are now single parents with the additional drama and trauma that comes with it. They are also left with the difficult challenge of explaining to the kids why their other parent is no longer in their life — and that it is in no way their fault!

It’s easy to see how children can blame themselves for the loss or abandonment of one parent. Often therapy sessions for both the children and remaining parent are helpful. Many families benefit from working with a good Divorce Coach who can offer valuable tools and strategies to get the kids through these tough circumstances. Encouraging your children to talk about their feelings can help them better understand what is happening and open the door to acceptance and adjustment over time.

Professional guidance from a therapist or coach may be a real asset when determining what and how much you want to say to your kids, especially when the details involve adult-level content. You need to strike a balance in your communication so that you don’t wound your child’s ego or self-confidence; you also don’t want to make excuses for a parent’s unfathomable behavior. It is wise not to imply that the other parent does not want to be with them or prefers to live with another family. Instead you can talk about the complexities that parent is experiencing and that they need some time to get their life back on track.

Sometimes the absent parent may have a change of heart after distancing themselves for months or even years. However, it’s best not to keep your children’s hope up when they may be facing continued disappointment in the years ahead. But whenever possible, do keep the door open to communication with your Ex, if you can.

It’s your responsibility to create a home life that gives your kids the love and support they need, and keep being there for them. Single parents can be great parents. Never forget:  because your children deserve the best, they’ve got you!

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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network for parents. She is the author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — With Love!The internationally acclaimed ebook provides fill-in-the-blank templates for customizing a personal family storybook that guides children through this difficult transition with optimum results. For Rosalind’s coaching services or free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting success strategies, go to:

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