Divorce brings up all sorts of difficult and emotional issues. Parents who are going through a divorce need to be sure that they are guiding their children through the divorce in a way that is appropriate to their age. Here are six mistakes that parents often make during a divorce.
1. Not Giving Children a Blame-Free Narrative
Children are very self-oriented, especially at younger ages. They need age-appropriate explanations for why the divorce is happening. If their parents do not provide them with a narrative that is free from blame, they might start to blame themselves for the divorce.
2. Not Telling Children About the Divorce Together
When children first learn that their parents are divorcing, they need to know that both parents will continue to be devoted to them even if they are not married to each other. Parents can begin the job of co-parenting by telling the children about the divorce together. Telling a child without the other parent present can create a loyalty bind, making the child feel like they need to support one parent over the other.
3. Not Giving Children Enough Information
Parents should be proactive when it comes to communicating with their children about the divorce. Children need to know whether a divorce is going to change their lives. Will they have to move? Will they have to change schools? Will they continue to see both parents the same amount, or will they see one parent less?
Even if a parent does not know the answers to some or all of these questions, it helps the child to know that their parents are working on finding those answers and will tell the child as soon as they know. This reassures the child that the parents are still driving the train.
4. Using Children as Messengers
Parents might, to avoid conflict during a divorce, send messages to one another through the children. “Please ask your mother if….” “Please let your father know that…” This places children in a parent-like role, which only adds pressure to an already-stressful situation.
5. Using Children as Sounding Boards
It might seem like a good idea to ask for a child’s input on issues related to the divorce, such as where they would like to live. For a child, though, this can easily create anxiety. It makes the child feel like their parent’s peer, meaning they might feel responsible for adult decisions before they are ready. Adult decisions need to be left to the adults.
6. Asking Children to Pick Sides
Parents going through divorce often feel alone, and they may seek reassurance that their child loves them. This is a normal emotional need, but parents must take care that they do not alienate the other parent by denigrating them to the child. This can make the child feel like that parent is denigrating them, since part of them comes from the other parent.
If you are considering divorce and would like to know what your options are, contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.