Divorce is simply not a license to destroy everything your ex stood for because if this is your stand, then you will inevitably being causing damage to your children too.
There is so much information out there nowadays that you surely cannot say that you didn’t know that your behaviour, word and actions during the divorce process or post-divorce are harming your children!
You cannot say that you weren’t aware that fighting it out in front of your little ones, or big ones only causes them anxiety and worry, that it can have long-term effects on them.
But just incase you are still not aware of what is causing your child distress, here are the 9 most common parent traps in divorce and separation:
- Parenting through Guilt: you begin to think that your child has been through enough because of the divorce/separation, so your boundaries, discipline and duties of guidance become lax. The world they knew has changed and if you parent through guilt, this changes their world even further. Stick to the previous routines and structures within your home as it provides with familiarity, normality and security.
- Giving your children too much information: you believe that they need to know the truth about what caused the split between you and your ex or that they need to know exactly what is going on with the divorce process including court dates, what your ex said about you, child maintenance payments etc. They don’t. All they need to know right now is that you love them, the divorce is in no way their fault and that you are the container of their worries, pain and anxiety.
- Using them to spy on the ex: then using any information provided to manipulate, influence or disrupt contact between your ex and your child. They don’t like to be questioned about the goings on in the other home. However subtly you think you’re doing it, they know what you’re up to. Just don’t do it. If you feel that you absolutely must know what is going on in the other home, then find your own spy, pay them or whatever but just leave your child out of it.
- Fighting it out in front of the children: there’s never, ever a good enough reason to fight it out in your child’s presence or within their earshot. A divorced friend of mine, recently told me me how he picked a fight with his ex at the parking lot of their son’s school. When I voiced my disapproval, his response was, “it’s ok, he is used to it by now.” When a child gets used to seeing you fight then you need to know that you are leading them into a very dangerous zone in their development and wellbeing.
- Transference of feelings: this is where you redirect the negative feelings that you hold towards your ex onto your children. You get angry with the your child because he would like to go out and do something but your ex has again failed to pay the child support. You get irritated by your child because she has your ex’s characteristics and mannerisms.
- Forcing you child to choose sides: maybe done blatantly or covertly e.g. “your dad is on the phone do you want to speak with him?” If your child knows that speaking with his dad is very likely to upset you then he won’t, so he chooses your side. How many parents have I heard saying that they would never force their child to do something she doesn’t want to e.g. see her dad or speak with him over the phone? Yet this same mum or dad will indeed force their child to have a bath, brush their teeth or do their homework whether they like it or not because that’s what a parent does. See where I’m going?
- Using your child for companionship/support: treating them as an adult companion. You confide in them about most things, from your financial situation to your emotional wellbeing and dating life. Just don’t do it and if they ask, let them know that somethings are for you and your friends.
- Using your child to get back at your ex: you do whatever you can to make sure that your ex has as little contact with your child as possible regardless of the fact that your child would like to see his father or mother. Your rage against your ex is blinding you to the needs of your child. Remember you ex is not your child’s ex. You involve your child in extra-curricular activities that fall on the day that she is supposed to see her mother. You withhold information from you ex regarding your child’s life e.g. parents’s evening, hospital appointments etc.
- Turning family events into pressure cookers: you are so unable to control the animosity between you, to the point where your child begins to dread his birthday, father’s day, mother’s day and so forth.
Be the better parent. Provide your child with the sort of life that gives him or her the space to continue being a child. Be the adult in the room and find your own means of coping with the rage the you carry towards your ex.
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.