After The Divorce, What About The Children?
Although many children are resilient, they may feel trapped by the ravages of divorce. Long term emotional scarring of children can be avoided if divorced parents work to rebuild their relationship with their children.
At times parents tell me that they have decided to stay in an unhealthy marriage relationship for the sake of the kids. For the most part, I am not impressed. Obviously, parents should make every effort, including involvement in marital counseling, before deciding to call it quits. Many circumstances, however, may dictate that it is in the best interest of the children to end the marriage. In the case of divorce, both parents must take responsibility for their marital short-comings, learn to forgive themselves for their failure, and grieve the loss of the relationship. Most importantly, they must commit themselves to protecting their children from the emotional fallout of divorce.
Divorced parents, caught up in their own anger, sadness and grief, tend to project their feelings onto their children and former partner. As a result, children may experience a conflict of loyalties. After the divorce, parents need to work on rebuilding their relationships with their children. Here are some tips on what and what not to do:
- Both parents must be committed to staying involved in meeting their children's needs.
- Both parents must support each other in the process of parenting their children. Children feel more secure when parents work to maintain a similar behavioral structure and limits.
- Both parents must refrain from making demeaning comments about the other parent, especially in front of the children. Many parents appear to have little insight in how such comments affect their children and how such verbal assaults will affect their relationship with their children over time.
- Both parents must refrain from using their children as "surrogate parents." By acting needy and victimized, parents hook their children into a care-taking role. Children will process this pattern and learn to resent it.
- Both parents need to resist the urge to over-parent. Divorced parents, motivated by guilt and fear of disapproval, may inadvertently create a codependent relationship by trying to be their child's best friend and overcompensating through permissive parenting and excessive spending.
- Both parents need to stay involved in the children's activities. Children want to see both parents at soccer games, school conferences, karate lessons and other events.
- Both parents need to establish a structured visitation process so that their children feel secure and clearly know what to expect in terms of household transitions.
Unfortunately, a divorced parent may refuse to "let go of the marriage" and fail to follow the advice that I have mentioned. In such cases, hopefully there will be one parent who transcends the divorce and is committed to the well-being of his children. As the Bible suggests, "You reap what you sow." Parents who emotionally refuse to let go of their partner and refuse to work collaboratively on behalf of their children, may end up doing irreparable harm to their kids. Those parents who demonstrate integrity, by putting the needs of their children before their own, are more likely to build a positive, loving relationship with their children after the "dust of the divorce" has settled.
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor and a nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist in private practice in Scottsdale. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.