Divorces are devastating for children, but I find that some kids suffer more due to circumstances beyond their control. Here’s a heads-up for parents contemplating a separation or divorce to allow their children to have the easiest experience possible.
1. Angry parents = stressed kids
This should actually be numbers one, two, and three on the list because of its deleterious effects. When parents hold onto a lot of anger towards their ex, children become unfortunate victims. When children have to keep experiencing parents arguing and yelling at each other, or even just snide comments, even if it’s through texts, emails, or phone calls, it keeps the whole divorce issue front and center and makes it hard for kids to move on.
Some adults bad-mouth their ex in front of their kids, and this puts them right smack dab in the middle of the fighting. Kids hate to feel like they have to take sides or choose one parent over the other, and feeling pulled like this causes stress and confusion. They have enough on their plates trying to sort through and handle their own emotions much less having to process their parent’s baggage.
2. Depressed parents = left out kids
Going through a divorce means you don’t get to see both parents all the time, and so when you are with them you want them to be fully present and focused. Moms or dads who are depressed often isolate themselves, spend a lot of time in their rooms, and are internally distracted when they are with their children. Some numb out with alcohol or drugs, and some just keep busy and distracted with work or activities.
Their children feel left out, not important, disconnected, and lonely. Kids who sense that a parent is overwhelmed won’t feel safe to express their feelings for fear of putting the parent over the edge. Or worse yet, they might become the caretaker for the adult, and begin an unhealthy, life-long path of putting everyone’s needs before their own.
3. Divorce, itself, can be confusing for kids
I’ve met many kids who never saw their parents fight, so when they heard about their folks’ decision to divorce, they are really surprised and confused. Adults often times don’t want to tell children about affairs or other personal reasons for the split, but it leaves kids in a state of confusion. Not knowing why their family is falling apart is a tough pill to swallow, especially for bright, curious, mature kids who want to know. It makes it harder for them to process the divorce and move forward.
4. Only children may have it tougher when their parents split
Having to process through a divorce is tough when you don’t have siblings there for comfort and communication. These kids often spend many nights in their bedrooms, alone, listening to their parents screaming at each other. Many kids have told me they were afraid their parents might hurt each other physically, or that the anger might become directed at them if they try to intervene.
Too often they think they can’t talk to friends about it because they wouldn’t understand if they haven’t been through a divorce, so they hold onto their feelings and go through it alone. And what is unexpressed becomes unmanageable.
5. Parents who date too quickly can frighten their kids
Too many divorcing parents rebound right into another relationship, and these days even before the divorce is final. And I don’t think it is in the best interest of their children. A new boyfriend causes mom to be more distracted, especially if she brings him and maybe even his kids into her children’s lives. Parents want their kids to accept their new partner because they are in love and excited, but when they break up it becomes another loss for kids. And it’s worse if the companion moves in with them; kids may grow close to them, and then they are gone.
Finally, when a parent starts dating, it feels to kids like the divorce is real, and final. Previously they harbored hopes that mom and dad would get back together, but dating brings home the message that it’s really over. My advice: don’t bring a dating partner into your children’s lives until you have a ring and a date!
All of the above situations can be averted, except the only child scenario, but only if parents consciously make choices that really are in the best interests of their children. Children of divorce need parents who are present, good safe listeners, focused on their needs, and willing to create a friendly and cooperative relationship with each other. Kids who feel heard, understood, connected, and loved will be able to overcome the challenges that divorces bring. Parents, do your job!
Dr. Tim Jordan is a leading expert on parenting girls from 2 – 20 years of age. He is the author is Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding Transformation of Adolescent Girls. He is also an international speaker, media expert and school consultant. He often speaks about girls and their journey through adolescence, relationship aggression, friendship, cliques and bullying and the best practices for parenting girls. For more information visit www.drtimjordan.com.