By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Let’s face it, we all make mistakes we regret. It’s part of the learning process. This is especially true for parents. But when we make mistakes as DIVORCED PARENTS, the impact can be even more lasting – and dramatic!
So, here’s the bottom line: It’s far better to set the course straight today than to reap the consequences years from now when your adult children ask: Mom/Dad, what were you thinking?
Of course, coping with the challenges of parenting after divorce or separation can be very frustrating and difficult. It takes enormous awareness and compassion.
With that in mind, here are the most emotionally damaging mistakes that negatively impact children of divorce. Don’t be guilty of making these mistakes:
Fighting around your children.
Even if it’s on the phone or in another room, if they can hear you, it’s a source of pain, confusion and deep insecurity. Studies repeatedly show, arguing and high parental conflict does more damage than you can imagine. It changes a child’s brain. It can damage them emotionally, psychologically, mentally and physically. And the consequences can last a lifetime!
A good question to ask yourself is: How can we minimize the physical, emotional and spiritual damage inflicted on our children as a result of our divorce?
Asking your children to choose sides.
Bearing the weight of making decisions or choosing sides fills your kids with guilt, hurt, anxiety and confusion. Whatever they choose, it’s a lose – lose decision. It’s wiser to tell children about decisions you’ve made so the responsibility stays with you. Let them be angry with you rather than blaming themselves and feeling guilty for hurting their other parent. Your kids are always innocent. As parents, make responsible decisions for them so they don’t feel the burden. Ask divorce professionals for help. Things at home may not have been great over the past few months. Now’s the time to remedy that situation for your kids!
A good question to ask yourself is: How can we make life better for our kids after the divorce than it was before?
Ignoring their deepest fears.
Insecurity is one of the greatest consequences of divorce for kids. Forgetting to emphasize that both parents will always be their parents is a huge mistake. Remind them that both parents will always love them — even after the divorce! Remind them that neither of their parents will ever divorce them! Fear of losing Mom or Dad is an enormous emotional burden. It creates anxiety, deep insecurity, shame, guilt, inner turmoil and fear about the future.
A good question to ask yourself is: What can I do to boost their sense of security, self-esteem and wellbeing during the transition ahead?
Confiding adult information to children.
Often parents try to attract their child’s allegiance, sympathy or emotional support. So they feel justified in telling their children the divorce wouldn’t be happening if mom didn’t have an affair, dad wasn’t an alcoholic, etc. Coping with adult information can be quite disturbing for kids and robs them of their childhood. They become little adults. And they can’t ever forget what you tell them. Remember, children can’t fix your relationship issues. But they can be deeply wounded by your comments or confessions. Children are not therapists. Confide instead in your adult friends, a divorce coach, mental health counselor or clergy.
A good question to ask yourself is: How can we show our love and compassion for our kids as they move through challenges they did not ask for – or create?
Badmouthing your ex.
Disparaging, putting down or in any way disrespecting your child’s other parent — regardless how justified or tempting, is a bad move. It creates guilt, sadness, insecurity and low self-esteem in your children. They love their other parent and feel ashamed for having that love. They question themselves. Are they wrong, are you wrong, will you divorce them in the future? That’s needless emotional abuse.
A good question to ask yourself is: Do I love my kids more than I hate my Ex?
Letting your kids feel the blame.
Kids put adults on a pedestal as perfect beings. So, if you fail to tell your children that none of this is in any way their fault, they are likely to blame themselves. “I must be a bad child. Maybe my parents wouldn’t be getting a divorce ii I didn’t fight with my brother, get poor grades, cleaned my room, etc.“ It’s important to frequently remind them your divorce is an adult problem. “You did nothing wrong!” You are innocent.
A good question to ask yourself is: Am I burdening my children with responsibilities only an adult should have to bear?
Engaging in Parental Alienation.
Keeping your children from having an ongoing loving relationship with their other parent (for your own selfish reasons!) damages kids. It’s the worst example of divorce done wrong. Often, they’ll resent you for this when they are grown! It’s also extremely hurtful for their other parent who also loves them. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Put yourself in your former spouse’s shoes. What are you role modeling for them?
A good question to ask yourself is: What will the kids say to me when they’re grown adults about how I dealt with and treated their other parent?
Turning your children into messengers or spies.
Don’t ask you kids to act as messengers between parents or provide inappropriate details about the other parent’s home life. Let them enjoy their childhood without adult responsibilities on their shoulders! What if they get the message wrong? Forget a detail? Will you be angry with them? Is it their responsibility to be a messenger? Of course not. There are many online scheduling tools available that help you keep track of appointments, coparenting exchanges and dates, all communication, school and health information and lots more. Kids feel guilty when you probe them for information about their other parent. It’s a lose/lose proposition for any child who cares about them both.
A good question to ask yourself is: Do I want to rob my children of their childhood because of my divorce?
Intentionally lying to your children.
Lying with the goal of manipulating your child’s attention or sympathy is selfish and hurtful. They’ll resent you for it when they’re adults! All children grow up. When they do, they’ll hold you accountable for what you told them and question your integrity – and your parenting skills. Sure, you can get away with lots of mistruths when you kids are younger. But at what cost?
A good question to ask yourself is: Will my children respect me when they’re adults for the way I handled the divorce?
Making resentful payback decisions.
Making decisions aimed at hurting your ex also hurts your kids. They pay the emotional price. This includes moving a great distance away, not inviting your ex to important special occasions, punishing them for financial problems by limiting visitation, etc. Your innocent children are always scarred by these hurtful decisions as well. And the wounds can last a lifetime.
A good question to ask yourself is: Would I be making this same parenting decision if we were still married?
All these toxic choices are bound to backfire on you. If not immediately, then down the line as your children grow and understand more about their family dynamics. You and your children can survive — and even thrive after divorce. Avoid these serious mistakes and think before you leap. To give your children the best opportunity to heal from your divorce, be caring and compassionate. Be the role model your children need to grow up with security and a positive sense of self-worth.
A good question to ask yourself 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?
Will they reject you, respect you, hate you? Why wait to find out? Think about the answers now and behave as mindfully and consciously as possible.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach, author and creator of numerous ebooks and programs on divorce and co-parenting issues. To learn more about Rosalind’s many valuable resources as well as her free ebook – Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies For Getting It Right! visit https://www.childcentereddivorce.com.
All rights reserved. Rosalind Sedacca