Since it is a fact that one in two marriages end in divorce in the US, parents have a choice to make the experience manageable for their children. No child wants their parents to be separated or divorced, so when it happens, there is a lot of stress for the child as well as the parent. Children can have a tendency to think that it’s their fault that their parents did not get along. They can internalize their parents’ arguments or concerns, and have many other reactions to a divorce or separation. Just like an adult grieves relationships, children can grieve the relationship with an absent parent as well, or mourn the way the family used to be.
Although separation or divorce can be one of the most stressful and horrible events in a parents’ life, the goal hopefully is to be as amicable as possible with the other parent to help your kids adjust.Parents who get divorced or separated can have a tendency to be consumed in the separation of (assets, pets, house, even the children) and let the kids see or witness disagreements, arguing, fighting or worse. When this happens children can react to the parents non-communication by becoming aggressive, involved in negative behaviors to bring attention to themselves, or even worse begin using drugs, alcohol or hanging with kids who behave inappropriately.
Part of role modeling as a parent is to let children see “fair” disagreements (if they have to see them at all). Try to be amicable even when disagreeing, try not to show meanness toward each other, scream or talking negatively about your ex in front of your children.
Children can sometimes feel that they have to choose sides when parents argue, which can make for a disaster in their personal and social lives when dealing with the pressure. That pressure can put extreme stress on a child, especially when you are not keeping them out of the disagreements, or when one or both parents are using the child against each other or simply not handling the divorce or separation with the child in mind.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment during such a turbulent time. Divorce and separations are hard for anyone and devastating to the ego, as well as the emotional and mental state. But you still have to be cognizant of your efforts to prove your point with your ex-spouse and children, as well as how you shield your children from present and future trauma. Again, no child wants their parents to be divorced or separated, so the more amicable the transition, the better.
Some ways for parents to keep children neutral when arguing or when in the middle of divorce:
- Have a neutral place for discussing disagreements, divorce, etc, away from the children ( leave the house, go for a walk, take children to a family member or a friends house, talk in the car, etc.).
- Both parents agree to talk calmly in front of children when angry.
- Both parents agree that they will not talk about the other to the children.
- Both parents allow for the other to express their feelings without arguing (using a mediator if necessary).
- Both parents (together if possible) assure the children that very little besides the address of one of the parents will change…then stick to that promise. Children want to know that their lives will not be upside down, they need stability, so as parents we need to promise that stability. Believe it or not, there are some children who have parents that communicate throughout the divorce, so the transition of the divorce is not tumultuous.
- Both parents agree that they will not introduce another person into the children’s life without speaking to the other first, so everyone is on the same page. Again, if parents respect each other and their children, this can happen and it can allow the children to deal with a new person in the parents’ life a little easier.
Every household has its system and all parents have disagreements, but it’s the way we handle them that will make all the difference in how our children will respond and react.
Thought-Provoking Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How do you and your spouse/significant other disagree in front of the children?
- Are you and your spouse/significant other conscious of your behaviors, actions and words around the children when angry?
- What things can you do to keep disagreements “fair” and keep children neutral?
About Kumari Ghafoor-Davis
Kumari is a social worker and a parent coach. Her company, Optimistic Expectations fosters better parent/child relationships and family cohesiveness on her website Optimistic Expectations. She is the author of Real Talk: Ten Parenting Strategies to Raise Confident Successful Children.