A splitting of the family is a big deal. Everyone involved has feelings. Everyone involved has thoughts and fears and anxieties that have to do with the divorce and what it’s going to look like when the divorce is final. What is it going to be like after the family has split?
Sure, these may be fears of the parents themselves, but it’s also a significant contributor to the children’s anxieties as well. Nonetheless, divorcing parents seem to get their children involved in the divorce in a way that’s often too intimate for them to bear. The following are five mistakes that parents make with their children when they are going through a divorce.
Making Your Children the Messenger
Often, divorcing parents do not know how to communicate with one another. They might have a strong need to say something to their spouse but can’t find the right time since communication can be limited. When parents are with their children, they might be tempted to use the opportunity to tell their children what they really want to say to their spouse. Or worse, they may use their children as messengers to tell the other parent what they want to say.
However, using children to communicate to the other parent can add emotional stress to the anxieties and fears that children are already carrying. Family and divorce expert Gary Neumann suggests using email for parents who need to communicate. Emailing is a good way to communicate because emails can be direct and to the point, focusing on the necessary topics of discussion, such as children’s soccer games, paying for school fees, how to get the children to do their homework, etc. In general, communication between parents should stay between parents, and email is a good way to stay on target versus getting side-railed in emotional debating.
Making Your Children the Therapist
Another common mistake, often with older children, is disclosing to them the details of the divorce. Although teens might come across as being mature and ready to have “grown up” conversations, the divorce is likely affecting them too. It’s important to continue to be the parent; don’t give into your need to share what’s going on. If you have that need, it’s important to find a therapist instead.
Interpret What Your Children Are Telling You
When your children are responding to the divorce by sharing with you what they need, their fears, and their worries, it’s best to listen to them. What children need is to be heard and understood. Although as a parent, you might easily jump into finding a solution, it’s best to simply give your children the space they need to share their inner experience. If they need a solution or want your advice, they will ask for it.
Try Not To Interrogate Your Children
When your children spend time with the other parent, try to avoid asking them question after question about their experience. Although you’re likely curious or hurt or still angry with your ex-partner, it’s unfair for your children to express that to them. And it would be unfair if you attempt to find out about how your ex-partner is doing with questions about his or her home, new romantic interests, how much money he or she has, etc. Keep your questions to yourself and let your children naturally express what they need to about being their visits with their other parent.
Repair What’s Already Done
If you’re going through a divorce or have already been through one and you made some of these mistakes, making an apology to your children can have a great positive impact on them. It shows that you care and that you’re human too. It shows that you can be sensitive to their needs and compassionate with yourself.
Divorce can be difficult and perhaps it’s going too far to call these “mistakes”. However, recognizing the effects that these behaviors have on children might support your ability to avoid getting them involved in parts of the divorce that they don’t need to participate in.