Separation initially takes a toll on our children
A separation or divorce can create tremendous stress, change and conflict within a family. Divorce can be viewed as the death of a marriage by one or both parties. Many fears can arise for parents such as losing one’s home, losing financial stability, and even losing custody or contact with children.
Under these circumstances, parents can make difficult choices that are not always in the best interests of their children.
Reflecting upon important decisions and accepting help, within one’s network and professionally, can help well-intentioned parents make child-centred decisions that help mitigate the effects of divorce on children.
We live in an increasingly stressful world, which is why it has never been more important to foster emotional and mental resilience in our kids. Resilient kids are better prepared to tackle future problems on their own, but studies have shown that they’re also more likely to be engaged in school and in the future jobs.
Avoiding these common mistakes can help.
12 most common mistakes made during divorce
Separation and divorce are painful processes that disrupt the lives of Australian families. The good news is that within two years of a separation, the majority of parents regain their equilibrium, establish polite but distant communication with their ex-partner, and their children, in turn, adapt to the new living arrangements.
However, in the beginning it can be messy. Rarely is anyone prepared for the end of their relationship. This applies to both parties ie for the person who initiates the separation, and the person who is being left. Initially, inevitably one parent is more upset and aggrieved than the other.
The level of turmoil, uncertainty, and stress this can create with the children is extraordinary.
From experience, I have seen the following mistakes made by parents over the years:
- Exposing children to conflict: Children that have to witness the awful scenes where spouses insult, threaten, belittle, and even resort to physical violence can suffer from a lack of security. Criticizing the other parent can cause the child to feel guilty for loving that parent. Children also may start to believe that there is something wrong with them, since they are related to the person being criticized.
- Using the children as messengers: A common follow on from a separation is the unwillingness to communicate with your ex-partner. The alternative of asking your children to act as go between for messages – asking your child to do something you and your partner could not handle doing yourselves.
- Over compensating or spoiling the children: Parent/s overcompensate with the children by allowing things to occur that they would normally not had they been in a healthy relationship. Such as bad behaviour, treating them with gifts, allowing the child to sleep with the adult often, treating them with unhealthy foods and showering them with constant attention. All in the name of ‘making the child feel special’. These activities often have to be unwound down the track – especially if a new partner is introduced.
- Using the child as a ‘replacement spouse’: A separation of partners does not mean that now the boy becomes the man of the house and the girl does not turn into the woman of the house. The responsibilities of parenthood are not a child’s burden to bear. It is important that parents don’t cheat their children of their childhood by making them the ‘man of the house’/woman of the house.
- Harassing the child for information on the other parent: It is incredibly damaging for your child to be interrogated about the other parent when they return home from a weekend with the other. It is emotionally damaging and emotional abuse. Don’t interrogate your children and don’t pretend like the time with their other parent is a taboo discussion. Instead focus on asking fun questions and restrain yourself from giving a commentary on their experiences.
- Using the children as a therapist: Parents should never use children as a sounding board to vent their feelings. Telling children all the faults, insults and horrible behavior of their spouse is very harmful to the child. All of this hurts children deeply — after all the other parent is 50% of them.
- Punishing your ex: I have witnessed first hand parents trying to minimise or stop the other parent being able to see the children on important days such as christmas or birthdays. ‘Allowing’ the other parent to visit on christmas eve, but not ever allowing the children to stay with that parent is using control and just as damaging. . Many divorcees are out to gain revenge and prevent or forget to invite their ex-spouse as a sort of punishment. The only people this revenge tactic is affecting is the children.
- Talking money with the kids: Money is adult business, so don’t involve the kids. I look back and view the child support issue as materialistic, petty, and frivolous. Both sides of my family lived upper-middle class lifestyles. Money was never an issue, and it shouldn’t have been made into one.
- Boundaries: You want your kids make their own decisions, but they also need to know you’re the boss. Kids who are mentally strong have parents who understand the importance of boundaries and consistency. Caving in and allowing rules to be negotiated too often can lead to power struggles between you and your child.
- Not taking care of yourself: The older we get, the harder it becomes to maintain healthy habits (e.g., eating healthy, exercising daily, taking time to restore). That’s why it’s important to model self-care habits for your kids. It’s also critical to practice healthy coping skills in front of your children.
- Making your child choose: Some parents may leave it up to their children to decide who they want to live with and when. While getting an opinion on the matter from your older children isn’t a bad idea, children should not be faced with making this decision on their own. The issue is if they make a mistake or change their mind later, the decision is too much of a responsibility. Even worse, they wont want to hurt either of their parents by picking one over the other.
- Arguing over trivial items: When children grow up in two homes, items will inevitably get lost in the shuffle. But when you realise that one of your children forgot to pack their favourite pair of pyjamas, for instance, you must resist the urge to message your co-parent with unhelpful critiques or requests for additional drop-offs of the forgotten items.
Key take aways
Parents often feel troubled by and unprepared for their children’s reactions to a separation and divorce. Children need to know that they are not responsible for the separation, that they are loved by both parents, and that their needs will be met.
During the divorce process, adults experience a roller coaster of emotions to which their children are extremely sensitive. It is crucial that parents avoid overburdening a child with their emotions and lack of boundaries. It is understandable that during the transition period of separation and divorce, the parenting skills of adults are at a low ebb. Unfortunately, at a time when children especially need support, warmth and firm, consistent control, many parents are least equipped to provide it (1).
The truth about mistakes is that everyone makes them, especially when adjusting to a huge life event like divorce. Even so, these parenting mistakes are all fixable. And if you are working proactively to counteract them, some of them are avoidable entirely.
All relationships take work, and a friendship with an ex is no exception. You, but most importantly your child, will be very grateful for it in the long run. The greatest gift you give yourself in return for fostering that relationship is your child’s respect.
Author – Carla Kaine Kinesiologist, A Life in Progress Kinesiology.