Helping Children to Cope with Divorce
If you are a responsible parent facing the minefield of divorce, a prime concern will be helping your child cope with the process. If, on the other hand you are a parent who believes that old chestnut, "My child isn't bothered' or "kids take things in their stride" read on - .
It's an everyday occurrence? True, but to a child, it's something that happens to other people, not to them. Nor do they 'just' adapt, left to scrape through alone with their immature coping skills, there can be immediate or long term consequences.
A child of divorced parents is more likely to have problems with social skills, truancy, disruptive behaviour, promiscuity, isolating and future relationship difficulties. Divorce is the equivalent of bereavement to them and they can suffer deep feelings of sadness, loss and depression. Signs of hurting children vary by age, from regression or bed wetting in younger children, to anxiety, aggression, learning difficulties, lack of cooperation and complaints of physical ailments. Taking a conscious decision to stay aware of your child's feelings can minimise impact.
Is separation ever in the best interest of a child? Yes, the behavioural patterns above can also exhibit in a child living long term, within a dysfunctional or disruptive family. If a more stable, peaceful and loving environment can be created by a lone parent; the emotional wellbeing of the child can be protected by separation. Parents are primary role models and a child living in a hostile family unit is more likely to create or accept the same environment or treatment in future relationships.
Very aware of their security, it's not uncommon for a child living with warring parents to worry they will divorce. If divorce is imminent, it's preferable that they know separation is planned. Although a child should never be given any of the responsibility of deciding whether separation is best or not, it is often too easy for parents to find various excuses, which they 'think,' justifies not telling them until the divorce or separation actually occurs and the child is landed with a traumatic bombshell.. Withholding information that has such relevance to the child causes damage to, and loses of trust. They will be much better prepared when separation occurs if they have had knowledge of the situation and have been able to ask questions and express feelings along the way. Nor should a child be left vulnerable to overhearing such information, or it being divulged to them by someone else.
Wherever possible, it is preferable that parents tell a child together. Their age & maturity should be considered throughout and appropriate, considerate explanations given. They don't need graphic detail as to why the relationship is at an end, but they need some explanation and their questions may deepen through time.
In divorce, a parent overwhelmed with their own distress can allow the child to become their emotional caretakers, role reversal takes place. Self restraint is essential, with the parent taking responsibility for self. If help or support is needed, much is available and there is never need to burden the child. Giving the child such responsibility discourages them from feeling their own emotions and they can appear to be coping when they are not. Acknowledge they have feelings and give them space to express themselves.
Eliminating blame is important. A child will often feel that they did something to cause the break-up or that if they had behaved differently, it would not have happened. Stability is important too, and wherever possible, its best if the child can keep the same school and as many of the same routines and activities as they enjoyed before.
Okay, so you may have, or feel you have the ex from hell, but your child's self image is closely linked to both of you. Every hit on your ex's persona is a direct hit on your child's self esteem. Also, if you express animosity towards your ex, or try to disrupt the relationship between them and your child, the child will suffer from divided loyalties. This is confusing, damaging and hurtful and they will feel obligated to agree with your thoughts. It is best to keep the lid on any derogatory opinions you may have about your ex. It is paramount that the child knows the relationship between you and your partner may be at an end but their relationship with the absent parent carries on.
It is equally preferable if parents can maintain an amicable relationship, at least for communications involving the child. The child should not be used as a go between, not only is it upsetting to them, but it's a sure way to create a shrewd child manipulator. Family mediation can be invaluable if amicability is difficult to achieve and may also vastly reduce costs of messy divorce proceedings.
Children need fathers and predominantly, mothers gain custody. This is not always right, but a society blip we live with. Often contact between father and child decreases, eventually becoming non existent. Fathers in general, take the rap for this and although it can, on rare occasion, be the case they just 'build a new life', often it's due to the pressures and difficulties they face trying to maintain a constructive relationship with their child. Also on some occasions, the parent with custody makes contact difficult for them. Fathers can face enormous guilt burdens and sometimes maintaining contact becomes too painful for them and they withdraw from the relationship. Furthermore, the parent with responsibility can feel like the big bad wolf as they tend to be responsible for discipline and daily structure, possibly faced with financial difficulties too, they can become resentful towards the absent parent. The absent parent can feel unwanted, shut out and not important anymore and often they lose the possibility for involvement in the child's day to day to life. The long term aim should be allowing your child to have a loving, trustworthy relationship with both parents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shan' is a new life writer who covers many subject areas, from sexuality & relationships, to creativity, abuse recovery and more. More of Shan's writing can be found at http://shonasworld.com along with her in progress autobiography and a support and discussion forum