By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
Whether your divorce is pending or five years behind you, your children continue to process the reality according to their age and level of understanding. There are several concepts that cause the most emotional turmoil for children. Being aware of these sensitive areas can help parents address these issues more effectively.
As your children age they may revisit your divorce with more questions, confusion or insecurity. That’s why it’s essential that you have answers ready based on a keen understanding of how children internalize a divorce – even long after it’s over.
There are two major concepts that can create the most emotional pain for children. The first has to do with blame and the second with unrealistic expectations. Here are some suggestions for handling these common challenges.
Children keep blaming themselves for the divorce – even after it’s over!
Regardless of what their parents may tell them, many children still believe they are the reason for their parent’s divorce. This is especially so if the children have heard their parents fighting about the kids and related parenting issues. It’s easy for a child to assume that if they had behaved better, fought less with their siblings, received better grades or helped more around the house, they could have prevented the subsequent divorce.
Your divorce may be long past, but some children still need to repeatedly hear the same message. It’s important to explain to them that divorce is always between Moms and Dads! Regardless of what they may have heard when their parents fought, children are never the cause of a divorce. Using age-appropriate language it’s valuable to explain to your children that there are many reasons why people divorce.
Sometimes they may have grown apart. Or the love they once had for each other has changed. Often they just can’t agree about issues in their lives. You don’t have to go into specifics in your own circumstances. The important point to make is that Mom and Dad both love you very much. And one thing is for certain: The divorce was not and is not your fault. You did not cause our divorce and you are not in any way to blame!
Children keep trying to fix your divorce – even after it’s over!
One of the saddest consequences of a divorce is the pressure some children put upon themselves to fix the problem. Getting Mom and Dad back together is a huge emotional burden that you don’t want your children to undertake. It’s a no-win situation that’s far beyond the capabilities of any child – even when they’re in their teens.
Nevertheless, many children invest time in wishing and trying to make everything okay and get both parents back home again. Part of their strategy may be trying to adjust their behavior so they never get scolded, striving for A’s at school and becoming the perfect child.
Some children take the opposite track. They create negative attention to distract Mom and Dad, hoping to side-track the divorce. By acting out, doing poorly in school, jumping onto drugs or other negative behaviors, their intention is to make the divorce go away by keeping their parents engaged in these other demanding issues.
Again, it’s valuable to address these behaviors head-on. Talk about your children’s feelings. Let them know you understand and acknowledge their right to be angry, frustrated, hurt, confused or ashamed about the divorce. Explain, as well, that they can’t behave their way into avoiding or postponing a divorce – or restoring a marriage following a divorce. The more both parents are in accord regarding the finality of the divorce and the messages they are conveying, the easier it will be for your children to accept the tough reality they may have been trying to avoid.
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Rosalind Sedacca, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide for Preparing Your Children — with Love! The ebook helps parents create a unique personal family storybook that uses fill-in-the-blank templates to guide them through this difficult transition with optimum results. For Rosalind’s free articles, coaching services, books, programs, free ezine and free ebook – Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! visit //www.childcentereddivorce.com.
This is a very thoughtful article full of insight and wisdom. I appreciated the line, Getting Mom and Dad back together is a huge emotional burden that you don’t want your children to undertake.
I like how you showed the good and difficult behaviors children use to get their parents back together.
Thanks, Rosalind. Understand children of divorce so well.
Thanks, Jean. Really appreciate your comments on this post. You are a parenting expert so your feedback means a lot to me. Always appreciate your support!
Excellent advice! As a professional I have seen these issues comes up over and over. As a child of divorce, I understand these pressures and recall them well even today. Good information. I will share this on my blog if you do not mind!
This comment from Mary in the Broken Circle project sheds light on her “emotional burden”:
My parents fought a lot when I was younger. I never thought anything of it. To me, it was completely normal. The first time I heard them mention divorce, I cried as loud as I could upstairs so that they would hear me and stop fighting. I was a rather passive-aggressive child. My dad told me not to worry – he said they wouldn’t get divorced and that everything would be okay. Looking back on it now, though, I wish they had gotten divorced much sooner. I blamed myself for a long time for keeping them together when they didn’t belong that way.
But things continued to get worse. They continued fighting, and more and more I started to withdraw from everyone and everything around me. I felt helpless and alone, because I didn’t want to tell anyone – friends or teachers or even my parents- what effect all of this was having on me. I made myself into an emotionless rock. I tried to kill every emotion that came to me. I still hate crying in front of people because I see it as a sign of weakness.
I’ve spent so long hiding everything I feel and everything I am, and making up lies to make it look like I’m normal, and putting up a front of who I think I should be, that in all honesty, I don’t know who the hell I really am.
Thank you, Karin. I think Mary’s comments really make a strong statement about what goes on in the minds of children and how difficult it is for them to cope. As parents we need to be keenly aware of how our behavior and choices are affecting our children — even when divorce isn’t in the picture!
Children cansometimes be unaware about the actual reason behind a divorce and this can force them to blame themselves. Furthermore, they always try to fix the issues even after the divorce, because they keep themselves in a zone where they develop a misconceptionthat everything will be alright sooner or later. One of the main causes of such a mentality is surely the lack of communication between you and your child.For more about divorce communication, you can refer to the following link: //thedivorcecompany.ca/communication-during-divorce/
Thanks for making that important observation, Shane. Very true. The Child-Centered Divorce Network strongly emphasizes learning good communication skills. More about that at http://www.childcentereddivorce.com/coaching.