An Excerpt from Positive Discipline A-Z, by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glenn
“I want to get a divorce, but I'm so afraid it will hurt my children. Should I stay in my marriage for the sake of the children?”
Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
Many circumstances in life can be hurtful for children, including divorce. There is evidence, however, that a bad marriage is actually more difficult and hurtful for children than divorce. There are many things parents can do to reduce the pain of divorce for children.
- Encourage children to express their feelings and show understanding. Verbalize that you understand that the change is painful for all of you, and express confidence that you will all be able to handle it effectively with time.
- Do not fight over the children. Share time as equally as possible. Children want to love and respect both parents. It is easier for children to love four parents (if you remarry) than it is for them to have to choose between their two natural parents.
- Do not say degrading things about each other in front of the children. You will probably experience a lot of hurt yourself. It may be tempting to seek revenge through the children. Be aware of how much this hurts your children and avoid the temptation.
- Encourage your children to love and respect each of you. Let them know they are not being disloyal to you by loving their other parent, too.
- Children benefit when the parent who does not have custody of the children maintains contact with the children on a consistent basis that the children can count on.
- Do not try to be the "good" parent. Often the parent who does not have custody, fights for the children's loyalty by providing special treats and outings every time they are together. This makes it difficult for children who need order and daily routines. It eventually becomes difficult for the "good" parent also, since children will learn to expect special treats all the time.
- Whenever possible, invite all parents to special occasions. Children who can look out in an audience and see all of their parents cheering for them suffer less than kids who try to figure out how to split themselves in half for the parents.
Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems
- Children often wrongly assume something they did caused the divorce. Reassure them verbally that the divorce is not their fault.
- Maintain routines the child experiences regularly. A parenting class and support group can be helpful at this time.
- Get children involved in family meetings where feelings can be shared and solutions to problems can be solved together.
- Seek outside help. Because of the pain and trauma you are experiencing yourself in going through a divorce, it may be very difficult to be objective enough to accomplish these guidelines without support.
- If at all possible, take time before introducing and adding new partners to the children’s lives.
- Allow them to take their time forming relationships with new partners. They may not warm up as quickly as you’d lik, and that’s normal. Don’t try to force them to like your new partner.
- Spend time with your children away from your new partner.
- Don’t expect your children to fill all your needs, especially those that another adult should fill. Your children are not your therapist, no matter how old they are, and there are som things you should not discuss with them.
- Inform school people, friends, and other support folks what is going on so that they can watch for opportunities to comfort, console and listen to the kids whose parents are divorcing.
Life Skills Children Can Learn
Children learn they can handle whatever circumstances life presents with courage and optimism. They can see the opportunity to learn and grow from experiences instead of seeing problems as failures.
- Studies on children of divorce have shown that when parents handled divorce effectively, their children did better socially, academically, and emotionally one year after the divorce than they had been doing before the divorce.
- Your attitude will greatly influence your child's attitude. If you feel guilty, the children will sense that a tragedy is taking place and will act accordingly. If you accept the fact that you are doing the best you can under the circumstances, and are moving toward success instead of failure, children will sense this and act accordingly.
- Don't expect instant adjustment to a divorce situation. Adjusting to divorce is a process.
In their book, For the Sake of the Children, Kris Kline and Dr. Stephen Pew point out that the anger and resentment that often accompany divorce don't dissolve when the papers are signed. More often than not the bitterness lingers on, sometimes for many years. Unfortunately, this can cause tremendous harm to the children, who still love both parents.
In many cases, the custodial parent uses the children as a sounding board for his or her anger toward the other parent. In other cases, mentioning the absentee parents becomes taboo, thus making the love a child feels for that parent almost illicit. In this wise and practical book, the authors offer effective ways to break the pattern of behavior that leads to further pain. They asked children if they had any recommendations for divorcing parents that, if followed, might make the process of divorce less painful for other children going through it. Here are some of the suggestions they received:
"Try not to talk about each other in a negative way in front of your kids. Keep your problems between yourselves."
"Even though you're going to be apart, make an effort to get along, I mean, like anybody else; if you needed to get along with somebody at work or whatever. You know, just for the child, so the child can have both parents around. Just make an effort to get along."
"It isn't fair when your mom says that if you love her you won't love your dad, or you have to love her more than you love your dad."
"Allow the children to like the other parent. Make it okay to like the other parent. And if you don't like them, so what? Grin and bear it."
If one strong theme consistently emerged from conversations with young people, it was a desire to be allowed to love both parents equally without having to take sides.