In this article, I would like to look at some common and most frequent mistakes couples going through divorce and separation make vis-à-vis their children:
Using child as a messenger, mediator or spy.
The sad thing is, when you engage in any of these activities, your child knows what you are doing. They may not know the reason behind your actions but they are aware that you are trying to gain information from them about the other parent.
This does not help your child cope with your divorce at all. All it does it put them in a very awkward, difficult and challenging position which in turn affects their own wellbeing.
Transference of feelings
The saddest story I ever heard was of a 5 year old who arrived home after a day out with her mother, she was wearing brand new shoes and couldn’t wait to show them to her father. However, as soon as dad opened the door, and she proudly exclaimed, “Look at my feet!”, Dad firmly asked her to take the shoes off, picked them up and put them in the bin. His anger and resentment towards his ex-wife, had just been transferred to his child.
Using your child for companionship/support.
There are parents who tend to make their child their “best friend” and lean on him or her for emotional support whilst discussing all kinds of adult issues with them. These children know when the divorce hearing is, how much maintenance mum or dad gets, what the other parent was like during the marriage, what the other parent is planning on doing etc. Simply put, these children get dragged into adult matters and more often than not, the parent or parents practicing this behaviour will explain it away as, “I think they just need to tell the truth.” No it isn’t. That benefits you, not your child.
Parenting from guilt
“I just think that she has been through so much with the divorce and separation, that I let her get away with it.” This is a statement that I have heard many a time. Parenting from guilt is a recipe for huge parenting issues later. Helping children cope with divorce and separation, means maintaining their regular routines and structures as much as possible, that includes family rules that existed prior to the divorce. If they were working then, they will work now. Moving goal posts and boundaries, only creates a sense of unfamiliarity, something that the divorce has already brought on firmly, which in turn creates a sense of insecurity. The more familiar the environment, rules and boundaries, the better for the children.
Forcing your child to choose sides
You will be amazed how often this happens. But you will be even more interested in knowing that getting children to choose sides is often more subtly done than posing a direct question e.g. “Who do you want to live with? Mummy or daddy?” It’s more “discreet” than this; “Your dad’s on the phone, do you want to speak with him?” “You’re mum’s arrived late to pick you up, do you still want to go?”
If you have read any of my previous articles, you will see that I often say that divorce will always be a watershed moment for your child but what can be even more impactful and long lasting, is the way you, as the parents, handle their life after divorce and separation.
Soila is a Child Development Psychologist, accredited Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) parenting practitioner, Certified Trauma Specialist and trained Family Mediator. She works in private practice mainly, but not exclusively, with families going through divorce and separation.
Soila is a member of Resolution and a graduate member of the British Psychological Society.
Soila is the founder of The Divorce Magazine.