This is the fifth in our series of six articles on why adopting a positive
mindset during divorce can have a permanent effect on the rest of your
life. In our last four articles, we discussed how a positive mindset can
help you through the divorce. In these last two articles, we will focus
on why it is essential after the divorce is final.
Today we focus on the children. Did you know that children born in California
today can (on the average) expect to have two sets of parents by the time
they are sixteen? And if divorce rates and cohabiting adult rates continue
to rise, the future for America’s children will continue to get
more complex and confused. “Blended families” will become the norm.
There are alarming statistics taken from a 25-year study of children of
divorce chronicled in Judith Wallerstein’s book,
The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. Her research showed that divorce is NOT a temporary crisis for the children.
She states that “It’s in adulthood that we see the effects
of divorce most clearly, rather than in childhood or adolescence.”
The reason Ms. Wallerstein believes this to be true is because it is in
adulthood when people form long-lasting romantic relationships. She concludes,
“For kids of divorce, fear of betrayal or abandonment can lead them
to choose bad partners — people they don’t love and therefore
feel ‘safe’ with.” Over half of the children in her
study have decided not to marry and not to have children, “because
they believe they know too little about good parenting.” I recommend
a full read of her book to fully understand the devastating results of
divorce on the children.
To hear directly from the children themselves, I suggest that you watch
Ellen Bruno’s video titled Split. It can be found in my blogs, or
you can go to
http://splitfilm.org. You will see how insightful these kids are at only ages 6 to 8. These
feelings are real.
At this formative stage of life, a child needs loving attention by parental
role models and someone to ask their seemingly endless questions. They
need to be able to look forward to important occasions in their lives,
like birthdays and graduations, and to have the support of their role
models. This builds their self-esteem and confidence.
Kids today can “drop out,” even in a normal family situation
where they are parented with guidance and love. Each child’s personality
is so different; their needs and motivations require loving time and attention.
Children still play “house” and take turns being mom and dad.
They mimic parent behavior.
When parents are arguing and fighting, berating each other or even being
physical, no matter who hurt whom, the kids don’t miss a thing.
They hurt, too. They learn to mimic bad behavior patterns. Sometimes they
feel like it was their fault. They withdraw. They are being forever changed.
Being a good parent is really hard and should be taken very seriously.
After the divorce, children will most likely move on and end up in a blended
family, which will add new complexities to the relationships and family
demands. Unless positive steps are taken as soon as you feel the family
breaking up, the children will suffer more than the parents who split.
So, what are some positive steps you can take today that can possibly save
a relationship, a child’s feeling of self-worth or an entire family
or two? Because this issue is so paramount in dealing with positively,
I have asked a highly regarded expert in dealing with both the parents
and the children for her best advice. Susie Duffy, MFT, family counselor,
says the following:
- Keep things simple and straight forward. Children do not require detailed
explanations about things. Give children basic information as it relates
to them and avoid going into detail about the “how’”
or “why” in your personal matters. Children are mostly concerned
with what will change for them and how they will be affected.
- Speak about the other parent in a positive way. Always use “your
mom, or your dad” when talking about the other parent. Never use
the parent’s first name nor refuse to say the parent’s name
at all. This helps your child feel comfortable having a relationship with
the other parent.
- Always reinforce love. Remind your child that you love him/her, more often
than you think is necessary. During divorce children have an uncanny knack
at turning things back onto themselves. Reassure that you love them and
that both parents love them.
- Catch your child being good at something or doing a good deed. Examples
can be as simple as setting the table or helping with the grocery shopping.
Make a big deal about it. Say something like, “I really liked the
way you set the table tonight.”
- Help your child feel comfortable at your home by making sure they have
their own personal space and place for their belongings. Have the child/children
be involved in painting, decorating and setting up their room or space
at your home.
- Consider the family pet. If the child is close with a family pet, see if
there is a way to have the pet make transitions with the child. This will
help the child make transitions from home to home a little easier.
It is important to remember that children need behavior and attitude modeling
from their parents to help them make these adjustments. The more you are
able to stay positive with your children during and after the divorce,
the more you will help them make the transition with the least amount
of emotional fallout.
A few positive suggestions for parents to help ease the pain of divorce
on their children:
- Consider taking some co-parenting classes to learn positive ways to deal
with the many issues that WILL arise during and after the divorce.
- Put the child(ren) first in all discussions and decisions. Ask yourself,
“What’s best for our child(ren) on this issue?”
- Let kids be kids! Don’t put them in the role of parenting you! Find
another friend to discuss your concerns and problems. Insulate the kids
from adult decisions and problems.
- Never bad-mouth the other parent to your child(ren) or put the child(ren)
in the middle of a disagreement between his or her parents. Again, let
kids be kids!
In summary, give the most care to the children. They are in the most delicate
of emotional turmoil. By your positive attitude and attention, you can
help them get on with their lives in the best way possible. You can help
them learn positive ways to deal with stress and disappointment. You can
help them cope with disappointment and separation in positive ways.