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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

5 Guidelines to Help Your Kids Survive Divorce

There are so many topics I would like to cover in this blog that I find it difficult to choose one when I sit down to write. Today I'd like to talk about how to spare your children in an ugly divorce. But before I get to that, I'd like to show you the photo above from my new Camera.

The photos are improving now that I've read the manual. Now what's wrong with this picture? I'm actually about the worst person to ask because I'm really bad at noticing fine details that might be amiss, but I'll tell you what I see and don't see. Feel free to leave me a comment if you'd like to add anything. The photo is a little dark or underexposed. My problem is that I LIKE dark subjects, so I'm not sure how dark is too dark. The background is not the best, and the focus is not even across the front of the flower. By that I mean that depth of field is very small in a close-up like this, so I should have been looking down more evenly on the flower so the petals weren't so unevenly focused.

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And now on to divorce. I've been thinking about this a lot lately since I currently have 2 different friends with children going through bitter divorces. First let me say that I am married for the 3rd time. Yes, nothing to brag about, but it is what it is. My 2 children are from my first marriage. They were 6 and 3 when their father and I separated and they are 23 and 20 now. So they survived 2 divorces (and I was the primary care-giving parent) and guess what! They're okay. They aren't perfect, and neither am I, but for the most part they are happy, well-adjusted, nice, smart, funny, athletic, and otherwise productive members of society. And I'm not the only one who says so. People who have otherwise no use for me have told me that I have the nicest kids they've ever met. I tell you this because this is why I have the right and authority to have an opinion on this subject. But I'm not making the following shit up. If you don't believe me, then here are some articles to read that will say the same thing: The Mayo Clinic, University of Missouri, The Child Trauma Institute, and WebMD.

So here are my guidelines to helping your kids survive the trauma of divorce and go on to thrive:

1. Do not trash the other parent in front of the child. EVER. Children have the right to love the other parent. No matter what you think or what the other parent did to you or even if the other parent is Jeffrey Dahmer, do not speak ill of him/her in front of the kids.

Why not? It makes the child feel frightened and pushed to pick sides, feel abandoned and unloved, ashamed of loving the other parent ANYWAY, and scared of the attendant instability.

2. Do not give your child lurid details about the marriage or the divorce. Do not talk to them about sex, money, or any other adult things. And I mean NEVER. Even in their 20's kids don't want or need to hear that--even if they say they do.

Why not? It's not their business. A kid's business is to go to school, play and have friends. Period. They have no business being involved in the ugly details of divorce. Your child should not be your best friend or confidant. That's called enmeshment, and it's not healthy for you or your child [this stuff is not light reading, I warn you].

3. Reassure the child that he/she is loved, that it's not his/her fault, and that he/she can't fix it.

Why? Because these are the things that children are preoccupied with and need to be told over and over and over and over. I'm talking for YEARS.

4. Handle questions and outbursts in an empathetic manner. "But what if the kid tells me the parent is a this or that or something else?"

It doesn't matter. You just put on a blank empathetic look. Say things like "I feel your pain." "I'm so sorry you feel that way." "I know your mother/father loves you." Do not say things like, "yeah, well I always did think he was a cocksucker/moron/imbecile/son-of-a-bitch/whore/thief" etc. etc. etc. Do not be drawn in or manipulated into saying things you shouldn't.

Why? See #1 and #2.

5. Give your children the minimum information they need to understand what's happening to them in language they can understand. But you say, 'why not tell the child "the truth"?' "I want them to know the truth." "The other parent is filling their heads with lies."

Why? Because your truth is not the child's truth. Children have to learn themselves what to believe. Don't fill their heads with crap. They will come to resent you for it. It will not draw you closer--it will drive a wedge between you and your children.

That's it. It's that simple. Some of this may not come naturally to you, but you can learn to handle things this way. And even if the "other" parent is not doing these things at all or not doing them well, do it anyway. Try to remember who is the parent and who is the child, and act accordingly and responsibly. It's the only chance you have to save your children.

This is free advice and you are free to disregard it--at your children's peril.

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3 Comments:

  • Good solid, honest advice Cynthia, I wish more people could actually do this, but it seems that too many are so wrapped up in themselves and their own hell that the kids are the last things on their mind. And I find that children today are treated as equals in way too many families anyways, regardless of a happy marriage, or a bitter divorce. You are right, kids are supposed to be kids, feeling love unconditionally and that their home is their safe place. They should never be put in the middle of or be expected to shoulder, adult conflicts or responsibilities.

    By Blogger Lore, At February 10, 2010 at 8:08 AM  

  • Cynthia - Thank you for the sound advice and unfortunate reality check. Realizing that every situation is different, I wonder why so many couples revert to such a poor character trait. It's as if society, television, books and movies has set the standard or expectation for what a divorce is suppose to look like. Maybe I'm just cold, maybe I'm not trying hard enough to see the others side of the story, but I truly see no reason why a break up has to be such a disasterous thing. Life isn't meant to plan for destruction of others but to love and find a common respect. I feel that once you've loved someone you always will. The love doesn't stop just because you realize that your marriage is over. Especially if you have children. Plotting and continuing the pain only brings on more frustration and hurt for the innocent and in most cases it's the children. With that connection two people are bound forever. Why I ask you, why make forever so hard?

    By Blogger Christopher Clawson, At February 13, 2010 at 4:53 AM  

  • When me and my wife separated through divorce, we had no choice but to settle arrangements when it comes to co-parenting. We have 2 young kids and we don't want them to suffer just because we needed to part ways. So me and my ex-wife are working hand in hand to take care of the kids. My wife also bought co-parenting planner/organizer from http://4help.to/parenting which really is of big help in this process. Hopefully we'll get things flowing smoothly as planned. Thanks for sharing this! :)

    By OpenID Enjayneer David, At March 12, 2010 at 7:01 PM  

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