Kids need both their parents especially when their world is changing. Most adults agree with this statement. There is a select group that may protest. When going through the death of a marriage, especially when it involves real or perceived betrayal and conflict, often parents who when married wanted their children to love and respect their spouse, suddenly find themselves talking to one or more of their kids about how bad the other parent is or how wrong his or her choices are. The kids then find themselves in a place where unconsciously they end up taking sides.
In our offices the situations are often tough. Kids know too much and need someone to talk to. Parents want to be there for their child and often think all they are doing is listening and supporting. Often though another change begins to occur. The parental authority system gets shaken on one or both sides. If a powerful kid finds one or both parents passive or feeling helpless, they may gain control of their own lives before adulthood. The emotional distress that a divorce was supposed to deescalate for the entire family continues with no resolution.
What can be done to prevent or stop this? Here a 6 commitments we ask all parents and kids to make during and after divorce:
1) If you have something negative to say, don't say it in front of the kids. This includes where they might overhear and asking people possibly supporting your side to do the same when the kids are around. If you need someone to talk with about your life, confide in a trusted friend or counselor. Allow your child to maintain the kid role in the family.
2) Remember your child knows that half of their DNA comes from the parent you no longer love. You may have said in the past when times were better how much your child reflects your ex. It's better not to inadvertently damage your child's self esteem by bashing the person they resemble.
3) When listening to your child's complaints about the other parent, don't commiserate with them. It's very tempting to say things like, "That's why I left him/her, I hated their temper too." Remember that child doesn't have the option of severing their relationship with their parent. It's important that your child be encouraged to build strong relationships with you both. If that parent truly seems unreasonable, we encourage you to seek a family counselor for your child so that a neutral party can help both the child and other parent learn to live together.
4) Assure your child that while you love and miss them when separated that you are glad they get to spend time with both parents. Often counselors see children who worry about the parent they are leaving behind when spending time with the other parent. You want to model for them that you are an independent, self sufficient person and that you are there to take care of them and they have no need to worry about you during the time you are separated.
5) Make wise choices as you move into your new marital status. The same types of choices you'd wish for your children. Some times kids don't become alienated due to anything the other parent does or say. In our offices we meet kids in distress because of a parent's problems with anger, addiction, or poor relationship decisions. Introducing your child to a new love interest too soon, creating an home environment with lots of structure and little interactions, and behaving impulsively in front of your children can severely damage an already fragile relationship. PS Don't forget older children have access to your social media and be wise what you post, tweet, etc.
6) Give your children time to heal and adjust. Change is hard for everyone and kids often feel like they have little or no control over their own lives when it comes to issues involving divorce, cohabitation, and remarriage. Allow them a place to work through their feelings while still holding them accountable to respectful behavior.
In a perfect world, children would always be encouraged and desire to love both parents. In our offices, we encounter kids for a variety of reasons that have developed a difficult and often conflicted relationship with one or both parents. We are committed to working with all the parties involved toward a reunification process with pacing and limits in the best interest of the child giving them permission to resolve conflicted feelings and reestablish healthy relationships with both parents and their extended families.
Michelle Nietert, LPC-S has over 15 years of clinical experience in counseling children and their families. After receiving and continuing with extensive additional training since 2007, she has been specializing in parent coordination, mediation, and situations involving family law. Michelle is the founder and Clinical Director of Community Counseling Associates, a center of over 15 clinicians serving Collin County for over 10 years. For more information visit www.communitycounselingassociates.com.