Parents who decide to divorce worry about their kids’ reactions and opinions. They definitely worry about losing their children’s love. And they worry about what they are teaching their children about love, family, and marriage. You should be concerned about what you’re teaching your kids by getting a divorce. But you may be surprised by the actual lessons they’re walking away with.
When you end something that isn’t working, you are teaching your children a great deal.
Children need to be taught about integrity, honor, respect, and self-confidence. As a parent, you show your kids how to have a great life. Since we all have the right to a great life, you are the perfect teacher to help them learn this important lesson.
When you walk away from a bad marriage, you are teaching your children that abuse will not be tolerated. You’re proving to them that agreements are kept. That the truth always comes out. And that lying is something we all do but look down upon and definitely don’t need to accept. You are teaching your children how to stand on their own two feet. How to speak up and be seen. As well as how to recreate a life. You are teaching them resilience, compassion, boundaries, and self-worth.
You are teaching your children that it’s never too late to show up and to grow up.
Even very young children know what’s happening. They may not be able to articulate what they’re witnessing (thank goodness for our brilliant child therapists), but they know intuitively that something in their home is off. When parents separate and then start dating someone new, young children sense that ‘uncle so-and-so’ shouldn’t be with mommy after school. They know when dad takes too long with the babysitter. So you’re teaching them about safe boundaries too.
Your little ones grasp that dinner is supposed to be with both parents. They’re savvy enough to understand that most moms and dads sleep in the same bed. Especially if there’s been a history of doing so. They notice and pick up on the vibe, tension and the arguments in your home. They feel your disappointment. When parents drink or use drugs, they know it. When I was a child, I saw the hitting. With divorce, we owe our children some semblance of truth catered to the age and developmental stage they’re in. You are teaching your children the difference between trusting their guts and second-guessing themselves.
Divorce is a generational disease and our children need professional help, support groups, counseling, and lots and lots of love.
You may have a child who is an “old soul” and will be able to commiserate or provide you comfort. But then you force them into the role of parent. Instead consider that your children definitely, 100% need help in healing and dealing with the changes in your family. Children are not ever too young to experience divorce. It colors their lives, their relationships with future lovers, and their interpretation of monogamy. They become afraid of making commitments and don’t trust the institution of marriage. Quite often, they don’t trust even their own self-esteem. You need to teach your children that they are emotionally safe to be a kid.
Your child needs you to be their parent, so consider that you may need professional support.
What they don’t need is to be alienated from one of their parents unless there’s a history of physical or emotional abuse. And even then, children can have guardians present when visiting. Courts do not want to become involved with needy and angry parents using children as a bargaining chip, weapon or pawn. The bullying parent or attorney doing so desperately needs to get help themselves. When a parent uses a child, the child knows it, feels it and will side with the sanest parent. Parental alienation (pitting a child against the other parent or in-laws) never works. Do not teach your children to hate their other parent because you are angry.
Kids are not stupid… they manipulate their married parents, why not their divorced ones?
Let your children be with the other parent. They have to experience the financial and emotional or intellectual differences in your homes. They won’t be blind to the contrasts in lifestyle or attitude. Trust that your kids will use each parent for the things the parent is manipulating them with.
So, if mom has more money and is willing to buy them, then kids will use mom for the things they want. If dad takes great vacations, then kids will ask for vacations with dad. When mom is belittling and mean, they don’t want to see her. If dad has a weird girlfriend… surprise! The kids don’t want to visit. Let your children learn about life’s differences without feeling threatened by what they know.
Trust in yourself to hold the high ground… no matter what.
When parental alienation occurs, it may seem as if the other side is winning. You may have years of painful silence up ahead of you. It might take decades to correct your child’s ignorance. But over time, trust that the truth will come out. It may take years. (Remember when you learned who your parents really were? Most people are about 35 – 45 years old when they recognize that their parents are imperfect individuals.). Teach your children that you trust them and do your best to maintain trust in the truth.
Over time children grow into their future the same way your divorce forces you to grow into yours.
Your future will be totally separate from your ex’s life. And over time you will create healthy boundaries and rules. Be the parent who parents, and your kids will feel safe, loved and respected. As the parent healing and growing, your kids witness how to earn respect. Trust that over time they will articulate what they knew all along. They will come around to the truth. There are three sides to every story, and your child’s experience of divorce is valid, real and critically important.