As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I hear a lot of ways parents cause harm to their kids during divorce. There is no excuse; not putting the interest of the child first when making decisions is harmful. I hear co-parents fight about nail clippings, hair styles, school and church plays, bedtimes, eating habits, the way the new girl or boyfriend treats their child, and the worsts thing of all…they negatively impact the child by talking bad about the other parent in front of their child.
Does it REALLY matter that much who cuts the childs nails or if the child has short or long hair? Will these parents look back in a couple of years and view these issues with the same importance? In many cases, the answer is no. These issues are a cover up for the real issues at hand.
The underlying roots of the continous parental conflict are usually unresolved hurt, anger, and resentment toward the ex-spouse or ex-partner for doing them wrong, betraying them or not fullfilling their needs in the marriage. Nobody wants to intentionally harm their children, but they are the unintended collateral damage, caught in a battle they did not chose. A battle driven by revenge, distrust or just not wanting to give in to the other parent.
Research has shown that prolonged exposure to parental conflict during divorce negatively impact childrens adjustment to the divorce, school performance, emotional wellbeing, and their own intimate relationships. Many grown children of divorce report that they don’t trust marriage, they don’t believe in ‘happily ever after’. If you are a divorced parent, do you want your adult child looking back with resentment for his or her parents because you were not able to shield the child from your parental discord?
This is what you can do to prevent short term and long term harm to your children. If you are still struggling with resentment, hurt and anger, resulting from your divorce, this needs to be your first focus.
Instead of showing this hurt, anger, resentment and bitternes to the other parent during co-parent communication, tell yourself: “stop! This is not effective and is harmful to our children”. Even if you don’t show it in words, it will show in non-verbal communication and children pick up on your mood, your body lanuage or your facial expressions. Unfortunately, you can’t control how the other parent behaves. Display a good example and he may follow.
If you want to effectively co-parent, you both need to deal with the negative feelings that have spilled over from your marriage. You need to heal and direct this negative energy out of your body.
Talk about your feelings to a friend or trusted family member. If this is not effective enough, processing your emotions with the help of a Mental Health Counselor, Psychologist or a spiritual advisor could be helpful. Releasing these emotions and healing in hypnotherapy may be another way. Taking care of your own needs, excersising, walking in nature, meditating, using positive affirmations and pampering yourself are all effective ways that will help you heal. Pick what works for you.
In the mean time, try to keep a ‘working relationship’ with the other parent. Be cordial and polite, even if your don’t mean it. Fake it until you make it! Say ‘hello’ and ‘bye’ when you see eachother. I see divorced parents who are too hurt and angry to even do that and this is what they model to their child.
Remember, you are the role model for your children. They learn problem solving-, relationship- and social skills by looking at you.
For more tips on how to practise ‘damage control’, read ‘Nina Has Two Houses‘, a children’s book to help children cope with divorce.