Divorce is difficult on children. Done properly, they manage very well. Unfortunately, parents can make matters much worse for their children if they commit one of these five hurtful divorce mistakes:
1. Bad-Mouthing The Other Parent
Your children love you both. They can understand that you don’t love each other anymore, but they need to feel you are friendly and respectful towards each other.
When you smear the other parent’s name, degrade his or her character and insult your ex in front of your children, it’s an emotional nightmare for them. They feel they need to defend the parent being berated. Sadly, that puts them in a double bind because by coming to one’s defense, they feel they're taking sides and turning their back on the other.
Children need to love and be loved by both their parents and this ruins that ability. Children need to think highly of both their parents and not have bad thoughts of either of you. Don’t take that away from them.
Solution: Bite your tongue. Take the emotional high road and put your kids first. Vent to a friend, not your children. Talk to your lawyer if you have complaints that need action. Even if your child badmouths your ex, don’t join in. Instead say “sounds like you're having a rough go at the moment.”
2. Misplaced Resentment
A nasty divorce can leave you feeling bitter. Those feelings you have towards your ex must not be transferred to your children.
Perhaps your partner was a very organized, type-A person and you fought a lot about you being too messy or how you were always late. Now you find you have a child who has these same personality characteristics. Now your kid is nagging you to get moving because he or she doesn’t want to be late for school. You explode!
Note this familiar argument. But remember, it’s your child and not your ex speaking. Don’t let years of hostility be projected onto your child.
In fact, your child may even have some physical similarities to the other parent, so he or she may look and act like your ex, making it even more likely to trigger emotions.
Solution: Recognize your triggers and breathe. Get out of reaction mode and make a considered response. Remind yourself that your child is not your ex, and your child has no idea what issues you two had. Create your own new relationship with your child -- don’t live in the past and don’t project your future. Instead, bring your focus back to the present.
3. Use Children As Pawn for Manipulation
If parents still want to wreak havoc on each other, using the children as pawns is very effective. That can take many forms, such as having children deliver messages to the other parent: “You tell your mother that if she thinks I am giving up my week of custody so you can go see her parents, she is crazy!” Or maybe it is as simple as one-upmanship of gifts, exotic holidays or special outings, trying to manipulate a child’s affections. Parents may also use their parenting styles to upset their ex: feeding junk food to your child for the sole purpose of upsetting your granola-loving ex, for example.
Solution: Communicate directly or through a lawyer. Stop and ask yourself what your motivation is. If the answer is for your needs over the child’s then make a new plan. See a therapist for help dealing with your unresolved pain and anger.
4. Ruining Special Events
Children pine for the day their parents will see them sing in the choir, perform in the school play, make it to the hockey play-offs or have their special bar/bat mitzvah. Children want both their parents in attendance for their special milestones.
Don’t ruin your child’s opportunity to make a special childhood memory because you and your ex can’t be in the same room without the tension hitting the boiling point. Children are super sensitive to your facial expressions, tone and body language.
Solution: Fake it till you make it. You may still feel raw, but on these occasions it’s time to buck up and act like it is all fine. After all – it is just for an hour or so. You can do this!
5. Letting Guilt Hijack Your Ability To Parent
Parents feel a terrible sense of guilt for breaking up the family. Even a parent who was very good at setting and enforcing appropriate limits and boundaries can suddenly feel an overwhelming need to show more love and leniency in his or her discipline.
It’s harder to crack down on bedtimes and keep on top of kids to ensure they get their chores done when you feel you need to apologize for the mess you’ve made of their lives.
Solution: Remind yourself that kids survive divorce better if they have a sense of post-divorce stability that comes from consistent parenting rules. Be gentle on yourself and know that you will regain your parenting strength overtime.
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