Top 10 Ways Divorce Hurts Kids

Lately on this blog we’ve been exploring the issue of child support payments and their financial ramifications. Who pays, who doesn’t pay, how much, when, etc. But one question remains at the heart of this issue, and is the most important.

What about the kids?

Children have an especially difficult time with divorce. Nothing in a child’s life shakes up his world like a fractured family. Often, especially in bitter divorce cases, parents neglect to stop and think about how their split will affect their children. Child psychologists agree that seeing the divorce through their kids’ eyes and imagining how their relationship will be after the split is crucial to minimizing the emotional sucker punch of the parent’s divorce.

Surveying several child psychologists that specialize in divorce, here are their top ten factors to consider:

Children don’t get divorced.

Ok, this sounds silly, I know. But consider what I mean. Divorced parents will cease to be husband and wife. They won’t however, cease to be mom and dad. To the kids, dad is dad and mom is mom, whether or not they are directly involved in the children’s lives. Quitting your marriage doesn’t absolve you of parenthood.

Children will identify with their same-sex parent.

Parental bonds are important in building the child’s sense of self. Daughters will identify with their mothers, and sons will identify with their fathers. Divorce has nothing to do with that. It’s a role model thing. If the son hears from the mom, “Dad is a jerk,” he may begin to feel he is, too. If the daughter hears the dad say, “Mom was so needy I couldn’t live with he anymore,” she may begin to question her own normal needs to be nurtured. “Children Live what they learn,” the saying goes.

Daughters and sons will tend to secretly identify with “the other woman” or “the other man.”

Daughters seek their father’s approval, so they may begin to mirror behavior of dad’s new girlfriend so she won’t get rejected like her mom did. Boys may emulate their mom’s new interest in order to maintain her approval of him, psychologists say.

Children fill in the gaps.

Children may try to fill the void left by divorce to repair their family structure. They may take on parental-like roles such as mothering their younger siblings or disciplining them as their absent father would. They may also try to become their parent’s companion to fill their loneliness, psychologists say, trying to be a surrogate emotional spouse.

Children can develop a “Mini Me” syndrome.

They can side with a parent and parrot derogatory statements and harbor ill will against Mom in an effort to maintain an alliance with Dad. They see their parent as hurt, and want to heal them.

Triangles have sharp points.

Children can resent a parent’s new romantic interest, seeing them as driving a wedge between their one-to-one relationship. “You’re not my dad!” and “You can never be my mom!” are common attitudes that have to be gingerly managed.

Your concerns are not your children’s concerns.

Psychologists say it’s easy to project your feelings onto your children. Thinking they may be feeling hurt, abandoned and frightened may be a reflection of personal concerns. It’s OK to feel this way; just make sure you take care of yourself before trying to care for your kids.

Guilt is not a parenting foundation.

Psychologists stress that parents need to return to “parenting” as soon as they are emotionally able. The parenting style may have to change, though. Lenient parents may have to become stricter and stricter parents might have to ease up a bit.

Teens change their minds.

When children become adolescents, they may want to live with the other parent. This is a normal part of shaping their self image, psychologists say.

Communicate, don’t control. 

Keep control of yourself. Communicate your values to your kids but don’t micromanage them. If your children don’t live with you it’s hard to control them. Psychologists say don’t, but keep lines of communication open and continually display love and support.

 

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