Children are our most precious resource. That isn’t something that anyone has to tell us, it’s just a known fact. But, if that is the case, why do so many parents behave in ways during divorce that does damage to their children?
Great parents, wonderful parents who unconditionally love their children lose sight of what is best for their children during divorce, and do some of the most outrageous things. Why? Because they allow emotions and anger to drive their behavior and cloud their judgment during what is a very stressful time.
Here is the issue though, once we become parents we are expected to parent well regardless of how stressful life has become. If we are going to raise well-adjusted, successful children we have to put every effort into doing that every day, not just on our good days.
During divorce, though, insanity can ensue and even the best parent can behave in ways that severely damage their children. Below are examples of things parents have done during divorce, things that you do not want to do!
8 Ways Parents Damage Their Children During Divorce or, Behaviors Parents Should Avoid During Divorce
Purposefully Engage in Conflict
Parents can act like a two-year-old when angry or feel they’ve been provoked. Some parents seem unable to control their impulse to strike back when their ex pushes a button or, lack the ability to control their own desire to push buttons.
Let’s be honest, divorce can be riddled with conflict. That doesn’t mean you have to engage in the conflict in front of your children or draw your children into the conflict. Children shouldn’t even know there is conflict! For their sake, parents need to put their big boy/girl pants on and leave the toddler behavior behind.
Use Their Children as a Therapist
I met a woman recently who insisted that her 14-year-old daughter was her best friend. According to this mother, she had a “special” relationship with her daughter. That special relationship included this mother discussing her husband’s affair with her daughter. All the gory details of the affair and, crying on her daughter’s shoulder while doing so.
There are two reasons a parent would do this, poor judgment or an attempt to influence the child’s feelings toward the other parent. Or, both! If a parent needs a confidant their children are better served if they talk to a friend or family member or, better yet, a trained therapist.
Sharing private details about divorce with a child overburdens that child with information they are not emotionally equipped to process and deal with. An adult is equipped when it comes to emotional processing with abilities that children don’t yet have. Children can feel emotions but, they are not yet able to process those emotions in a way that alleviates damage.
In other words, parents who use children as a therapist during their divorce are relieving their own need to process emotions to someone who can’t yet process those emotions. Don’t hand your children a problem you can’t deal with yourself before they are old enough to process and deal with it. Keep your problems off your child’s plate.
Guilt or Pressure Their Children into Taking Sides
During divorce children can feel torn, especially if they witness one parent suffer due to the actions of the other parent. Add a parent to the equation who revels in the idea of the children taking his/her side and much damage can be done. There is a big need by some parents to place blame during divorce. If they feel their ex did them wrong, they may pressure their children to take their side in an attempt to punish the other parent.
Essentially, there are some parents who are willing to promote estrangement between their children and the other parent out of a self-righteous belief that their need to punish is more important than their children’s need for two loving parents.
A parent’s job is to help their child feel free from the burden of being stuck in the middle and having to pick sides. I’m afraid that is a foreign concept to some parents.
Breaking The News of Divorce in The Worst Possible Manner
There are right ways and wrong ways to tell a child that their parents are divorcing. I knew a man who left for work one day and never went home again. Two weeks after he moved out with no explanation he went to his children’s schools, checked them out of school, told them their parents were getting a divorce and he was never coming home again while sitting with them in the car. He then dropped them off in the driveway at home and drove off.
This man was talented when it came to NOT sparing his children’s feelings. A lot of parents get this part of the divorce process wrong. And, when they do, they set their children up to lose all trust in them and, it’s quite difficult as a child to find out you can’t trust your parent. Just don’t do that to your children!
Disappear on Their Children
Twenty-seven percent of divorced fathers have no contact with their children. That’s a lot of fathers who, after divorce, let go of their relationship with their children. Fathers who disappear from their children’s lives after divorce set their children up to fail in school, be more prone to drug use, more prone to develop mental illness, and more prone to spend time behind bars as an adult. Come on Dads, don’t do that to your children!
Engage in Long, Drawn Out Divorce Litigation
Being a single parent is a lot of work. It’s a hell of a lot of work if you are hell-bent on cleaning your ex’s clock in divorce court. Becoming tied up in an extended legal battle during divorce takes your focus off more important things. Things like your children and rebuilding your life. Not to mention the money spent on lawyers, money that could be saved for college funds or fun holidays to share with those children.
No one but attorneys wins during a long, litigated divorce!
Interfere with Parenting and Visitation Time
I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is more common with women. There is a private Facebook group for divorced women. Do you know what the main topic of conversation is in that group? Co-parenting or, how horrible fathers are at co-parenting and the things these women have to do to “protect” their children from those horrible fathers.
They give new meaning to the word interference when it comes to their children’s time with the other parent. Not allowing their children to answer the phone when Dad calls because it is “dinner time.” Refusing to allow the children to go with Dad because he was 30 minutes late picking them up for visitation. Not allowing the children to take a trip to the mountains with Dad because they will miss Sunday school.
For some reason, these women feel threatened if they are not in control of every move their children make and especially if the father doesn’t tow the line and parent according to Mom’s rules and guidelines. These women wouldn’t think about going into a bank and robbing it but, they have no qualms with robbing their children of time with their fathers.
Coach Children to Lie About the Other Parent
The most egregious thing a parent can do is coach their children to lie about the other parent. Highly suggestible children can be manipulated to believe they’ve been sexually or physically abused in order for a parent to win custody or punish the other parent.
Once such an accusation is made, that parent has introduced their child into a legal system that could take years to navigate. Accusations of abuse are taken seriously by the courts and mental health professionals who are assigned to evaluate the accusation and the child.
According to Hollida Wakefield, M.A. and Ralph Underwager, Ph.D. “In evaluating cases of suspected sexual abuse, the professional must remain open and objective, carefully examine each case, and take an empirical stance. Assessment and evaluation must be done with rigorous adherence to the highest standards of the profession, and professionals must attend to the characteristics of real versus false allegations. They must not immediately dismiss an allegation as false because the parents are in the midst of a divorce but must also guard against presuming guilt and aligning themselves with the reporting parent’s agenda.”
Coaching and manipulating a child into lying about the other parent means that child will make a long-term emotional investment on spinning a web an angry parent started. Not only that, such coaching can and often does cause irreparable damage in the relationship between the child and the other parent. It takes a special kind of evil for a parent to use a child in that manner just to assuage their desire to punish an ex or obtain full custody of their children.
Studies have shown that children of divorce are more likely to develop long-term emotional issues due to their parent’s divorce. Studies have also shown that children of low conflict divorce are less prone to those long-term emotional problems. Healthy parents want to divorce in a way that does not negatively impact their children. If you are healthy, then don’t do any of the things listed above during your divorce. If you are an unhealthy parent, I urge you to seek professional help before you do too much damage to your children.