Children and Divorce: After the Divorce
In the midst of a divorce, parents try very hard to avoid hurting their children more than they will be by the trauma of the divorce alone. However, children often don’t have the ability to voice which actions hurt them most. In discussing the experiences of adult children of divorce, these adults are able to express concepts that children often cannot. These posts address these behavioral actions parents might take to lessen the child’s painful experience of the divorce, and subsequently avoid the overall trauma the child undergoes.
-Don’t Badmouth your Ex: Saying bad things to the children about the other parent can be deeply damaging as a wound that survives past the trauma of the divorce alone. While you don’t have to shelter your child entirely from the conflict, you can find a way to explain to your children that this kind of thing can happen. By putting your divorce in terms that the child can understand, you can emphasize the positive aspects of self-care and respect upfront rather than terrifying your children with vitriol towards their father or mother.
-Accentuate the Positive: When discussing your ex-spouse with your child, try to emphasize the things you still can respect about them. While you may no longer be in love with the other parent, building up your ex in front of you children allows them the chance to not feel as though that parent is an entirely horrible person, and to not have their personal identity accordingly fall into question. While you might believe, in badmouthing your ex, that you are only telling your child the truth, you are actually spreading an opinion that might be toxic to the child’s sense of self and the love that they have for you and for their other parent.
-Don’t Lie: Children are far more perceptive than you might assume, and when you lie to them about the reasons for separation, about your feelings towards your ex-spouse, or about an aspect of your familial situation, they will often pick up on far more than you’ve actually said. If you lie to your children about the divorce they will feel far more unsteady and untrusting than they already do, and it will be harder for them to accept what you say as truth in the future.
-Don’t Underestimate Divorce’s Impact: I met a man a number of years ago at an event and I’ve spoken to him several times over the years. He says that his parents’ divorce, which was litigated, contentious, where he had to testify on a custody trial was the most formative event in his life. He says it was more important in terms of just determining who he is than graduating from college, getting married and even becoming a father himself. And to this day, he feels the impact of that in his everyday life. Now, this is a really successful guy. He was obviously able to survive this very traumatic event and yet he feels it so strongly in his everyday life.
-Keep Your Children as Your Bond: No matter what, forevermore, no one will feel the same about your children as the two of you do. And no one will experience their accomplishments or worry about their challenges in the same way that you as parents do. And that’s something that you’ll share no matter what your relationship until the end of time. It might not be something that you necessarily realize in the moment; it really takes presence of mind to say, “Wait a second here, this person is the father or mother of my children and for that I am deeply grateful, if nothing else.”