Children need support when a parent is bitter and vindictive post-divorce.
The mum or dad may have a personality disorder and are incapable of parenting in a nurturing way.
When a difficult parent takes centre stage and the youngsters treated as bit players, it is important to explain that it is not their fault. Children need to know that when indifference is shown or caustic remarks overheard, it is the parent’s issue, and not them causing it.
When a parent is toxic, kids can be quick to blame themselves. It is a balancing act to get support for your children while at the same time not making disparaging remarks yourself about their other parent.
Give children extra cuddles and attention. Let then know that they are loveable. Point out their talents and strengths as one way to build up self-esteem which may have been affected by being around negativity.
Discuss various strategies on how to deal with problems in an uncomfortable situation. My sons got angry hearing nasty comments about me, from their father and his mother.
There were ways to handle it, such as by using “I statements.” “I don’t want to hear…..” Other ideas were they could quickly change the subject or walk away to somewhere else. The boys had specific actions which helped them to feel more empowered.
Have a neutral third party available who can listen to the children’s concerns when time spent with a toxic parent is not going well. My sons reported this continual situation to their therapist and to the court appointed mediator, who was overseeing shared time post-divorce.
This situation did improve slightly when their father realized that professionals were looking over his shoulder. Supervised visitation or at a Children’s Contact Centre may be warranted, when a parent is using the children to get back at the other one. If children do not feel safe, then visitation is not productive.
When it is hard to deal a parent out for revenge, my older son suggested connecting to a Higher Power – whatever is in your belief system. Singing in the choir and spirituality gave him support from something outside of himself.
Divorce support groups for children help them to realize that they are not alone. Connections with others, such as through sports or after school activities lead to positive experiences.
Volunteering takes the focus off your child’s situation. One teenager felt appreciated when taking care of cats who depended upon him at a rescue charity. It increased his self-worth when he felt needed.
Another teen was a chess coach at a primary school. Watching the youngsters become enthusiastic about chess under his guidance was gratifying. Being called “The chess god” was a nice bonus. Both of these fellows had a rough time with a parent post-divorce, and volunteering helped life to be happier.
Life is about balance. We may be stressed by divorce and have a serious outlook. Children require fun, especially when going through tough periods. They need play and some unstructured time for creative pursuits. Take them to the park, the beach, to a festival or whatever your family enjoys.
Kids will get through dealing with a difficult parent easier, when the other one is relaxed and full of fun. That is how my sons made it through their stressful situation.
We watched comedies, took holidays, gave back to others through volunteering and maintained connections to people. Make sure to take care of yourself, so that you have the energy to be there for your children.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.