Divorce – Don’t Punish the Children

There was an excellent article on Yahoo! Shine the other day entitled “10 Things Kids Wish Their  Divorced Parents Wouldn’t Do.” I am not adept at sharing articles, especially when there is no share button that specifically gives the WordPress logo. So I have to re-write them in here, to highlight the most important aspects of what they are saying. Below are the 10 things in bold – I am making my own comments to this, based on what I have heard from kids. Before you read this, there is one caveat. Obviously, if the other parent is abusive to you or the children, naturally it would be unsafe for that child to be with the parent. In these cases stick to the rules of the court and restraining orders but at the same time be careful how you talk about the other parent.  These are children not adults.

And before we begin, the comments below apply not just to parents but to Grandma, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, and any other adult who wants to make their opinions known to children.

1. Badmouthing the other parent – This one I can speak to from personal experience. My mother made horrible comments about my father, to both my sister and I. Since she left him when we were 2 and 4, it is really hard to comprehend why she thought we would have any understanding of what she meant. “He doesn’t pay child support?” What does a child know about child support? “He cheated on me with other women?” Again, what does a child know about loyalty and faithfulness? “He doesn’t care about you,” now this one we understood but it always confused me because when we spent time on visitations, he was very loving and caring. Children are NOT adults and do not have the intellect of an older person. As an adult, I do understand that my dad was irresponsible and why he hurt my mother. Growing up however, this emotional torment that my mother put my sister and I through caused us to have a hard time relating to men. It was hard for us to know who to trust, especially when we were being given mixed messages from adults in our lives. This is not unusual with my clients either.

According to a Morehouse University study, I read (circa 1990’s), children from single parent homes or those with a stepfather; boys are more likely to end up in juvenile hall and girls are more likely to end up pregnant.

2. Discouraging kids from talking about their other parent – This is really unfair to children. The other parent is their mommy or daddy. Someone whom they love very much. Yes, he/she may be a drug addict, alcoholic, womanizer, imbecile but to the child, he/she is still their parent. If you have concrete evidence of this parent bringing harm or neglect to your child (due to drugs, alcohol or even without) report this to social services and let them be the investigator.  Don’t try to do this or teach your children to do this. Don’t try to find out details of their visits as if you are the local sheriff. This will scare children and sometimes cause them to lie. I hear those lies in therapy and it causes emotional stress to the child. It causes them to feel as if they need to stand up for their parent and become the defense attorney. Again, these are children. If they come back from a visit and say “Oh we went to the park today,” Say “That sounds wonderful, I hope you had a good time.” Grit your teeth if you have to but think about if from their perspective. Kids like to go to the park, zoo, etc… They don’t need to hear, “What, he was supposed to take you to get a pair of shoes today, why didn’t you do that?” If you have an issue with their visits, discuss that privately with their parent, don’t make the child into your confessor.

3. Divulging the dirty details of the divorce – Really? This goes back to statement number 1. These are children not adults. They are not psychotherapists or attorneys or child welfare agencies. All the understand is this is my mommy or daddy and I love them very much. The divorce is none of their business. That is between two adults.

4. Keeping kids completely in the dark – On the contrary, if your child is a little older and mature enough to understand relationships, it is okay to answer the questions that your child has. What does your child want to know? If your divorce had to do with a lifestyle change such as coming out of the closet, finding God, or falling in love with another person, it is okay to tell this to your child but try to say it without your emotions coming through. Of course you are hurt and angry, naturally this would be the case but again, this is between you and the other spouse. It has nothing to do with the children.

5. Skipping family events because your ex will be there – In this case, you can actually use the event to your advantage. Show up looking your best, smiling, be cordial to everyone (in other words mature). Again, if you have to grit your teeth under your tiara, do it for your children. On the same token, if you are going to show up and do not take my advice – please don’t make a fool out of yourself and start drinking or slinking around the corner with his best friend. Remember, your children are there and you are there for them not him/her.

6. Making the situation all about you – The Narcissist. This is actually the flip side of what I just mentioned in number 5. If you are spending your new-found freedom putting your energy into your anger toward your ex, then you aren’t living your life. You are just wasting away and spiraling downhill. Anger toward an ex-loved one means you are apt to make the same mistakes with the new one. Get some closure on this, visit your local therapist and find some resolution.

7. Making kids feel guilty for spending time with their other parent – If they are on the phone with the parent, this is their time. It is not your time to suddenly speak loudly or yell out orders to the other parent. When the child is off the phone it is not okay for you to grill them about what was said. The same goes with a visit or if you bump into them in public. Behave like an adult and this will teach your children how to cope with stress and disorder.

8. Justifying your bad behavior – “I have to protect my children to make sure he doesn’t hurt them, like he hurt me.” Your ex is not going to do to your children what they did to you. You were the spouse, they were the child. If your spouse really is an idiot, time will prove this to your children when they grow up and become adults. Often times however the adult they are living with, ends up looking like the bad guy and the absent parent shines like the knight on a white horse. Absent parents have limited time to spend with their kids. They try to make this time pleasant and fun. They want their children’s love and respect. They want to not be seen like the bad guy. Yes, the custodial parent has to set the rules, deal with the sickness, school calling, etc… Kids eventually understand this and empathize once they are adults and are old enough to realize what you did. However, if you are using the stress to set the other party up, stalk them, craft voodoo dolls, organize gossip parties with neighbors, you will be the one they resent, not the target of your abuse.

9. Putting your kids in the middle – “Tell your father I said he needs to…” and going back “Tell your mother I said…” If you two parents aren’t capable of having a conversation with one another, hire a mediator. Your child has not been certified to be a divorce attorney, arbitrator or mediator. The divorce was not their fault. Get help from licensed professional adults, let your kids be children.

10. Making everyone feel your unhappiness – The Histrionic. No one needs to hear your drama except your best friend, family member, spiritual leader or psychotherapist. Your best friend should be an adult not your child. Your male child is not your little man and your girl child is not your princess. Sexualizing your children with these titles is repulsive and sends confusing messages to children. 

The above ten pointers were a little redundant but I think sometimes it bares repeating the message. For over a decade I have worked with children who were abused, neglected, who have had addicts for parents, or quite simply went through a divorce (without the added bonus of social services being involved). I have dealt with adults going through a divorce and I have dealt with adult children who are survivors of the divorce they had to suffer through when they were children.

We all make mistakes. My mother made mistakes as a divorced woman raising children and as a result I did the same thing. My clients make mistakes and generally they are very similar to what their parents did. Many of us did not have the benefit of the Internet to teach us about psychology. We did not have a society that was open to psychotherapy. We dealt with life through the eyes of our social network that was live and in person, not in a chat room. Now you do have a chance. Young women today who have hundreds of types of birth control and no excuses as to why they should be pregnant with the vast amount of education and support to teach them. Young parents have plenty of resources online, support groups, therapists on every corner, religious leaders are more open-minded, parents are beginning to realize their mistakes, YouTube videos for how too’s, the opportunities for growth are endless.

Your spouse cheated you out of the relationship you wanted. “They” ruined “your” marriage, in your eyes – even though it takes two people to unite into one. I really do empathize that you are pissed and angry and want to make him/her pay. I’ve been there as a child and an adult and I know what it can be like. I don’t know your pain but I know pain. Unfortunately, you have children to be responsible for. Whether the other spouse is living up to their bargain or not is not relevant in your household. Don’t make the children pay for your beliefs. Don’t force them into battlefields and expect them to choose sides. Some children I have worked with in the inner city already have to pick between the reds and the blues, on the streets, every day that they walk out their door. At school our children across America are living in fear of gunmen walking in their class. They deal with gossip of other children; potential bullies. They have an education they are responsible for listening to and learning from. They have two households now to manage living at.

Children’s lives now are not the same as ours were.

If you love your children, you owe it to them to be the best parent you can be. This means that if you are having problems in your relationships, you need to ask for help. If you have been through a divorce (or left your babies parent) it is time to learn from this experience. It is time to evolve and become a stronger and wiser person. Show your children maturity and they will grow into brilliant, healthy and responsible people. Show your children chaos, anger, maliciousness and they will become victims who will have a hard time growing up.

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