The Prohibition List was blatantly clear on numbers 1, 2, 7 and 8. What the positive alternatives are to the remaining numbers are key to steering children of all ages through a divorce.
Regardless of your child’s age, you are not to use your child as a confidante. If you have no friends, seek professional (medical, psychological, psychiatric or spiritual) help. Otherwise, you are spreading the pain to an innocent party. Your child:
- is not the cause of your divorce.
- is not equipped to provide advice.
- cannot help you circumvent divorce.
- cannot provide reconciliation.
- should not be validation for your negative feelings about (situation, Mate, divorce).
- may be angry at you.
- is not the person who fills the space Mate left.
- has real pain and does not need yours, too.
- does not want or need to commiserate with you.
- has little or no concept of the mechanics of marriage or divorce.
- needs your help to cope with the situation.
Instead of adding emotional baggage to your child, explore Kiddo’s feelings about the matter. In focusing on healing for your child, you may well find the solace which heals some of the divorce hurt. Validate Kiddo’s feelings, but do not identify your feelings, even when they are the same. These conversations are about your child…not you.
If Kiddo asks how you feel, be careful. Safe statements include:
- You are not the reason for the divorce.
- Adults make mistakes, too.
- I wish things had turned out differently.
- I am worried about how you are handling this.
- I want us to get to a place where we can function as a different type of family.
Eventually, you will say all of these things. Mean them when you do.
Even when telling your child the absolute truth about the culpability of Mate will make you appear less villainous, keep quiet. As difficult as it may be for you to know your child thinks badly of you, assassinating Mate’s character will make you infinitely more evil than your child already imagines.
Children identify in themselves characteristics of both parents, both good and bad. During a divorce, bad characteristics are highlighted as the cause for the divorce. Your child will be more vulnerable to believing negative things about both of you. While it may appear evil wins the battle, in the end, good wins the war.
The children who believe you are demonic because Mate spews (true, altered, exaggerated, false) information about you are the ones who will grow up and see others (and possibly themselves) divorce. The change in perspective will likely cause introspection and reevaluation of the events of your divorce. Kiddo will then respect your restraint.
When faced with Mate’s negative press, simply decline to comment when it means saying something your child will find derogatory about Mate. You are welcome to point out there is more information than what Kiddo currently holds, but do not take the bait. Mate specifically said these things in an effort to break Prohibitions 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10.
Rather than making the discussion one of what made your marriage fail, teach your children about the steps necessary to find a suitable mate for themselves. Discuss the positive aspects of marriage. Let your divorce fall away from the conversation altogether. Kiddo will likely ask why you did not do all the things you are espousing. Tell the truth. If you had, you may well not be where you are today.
When you child returns from a visit with Mate, do not pull out the spotlight, telephone book and electrodes. Ask well-worded questions to keep your child comfortable sharing with you the things done with Mate.
- Did you enjoy your weekend?
- How did you like doing _______________?
- Where did you go this week/end?
What is noticeably missing from these questions? Mate. Your interest is not in what Mate did during the visit, but what Kiddo did and felt. Keep the subject about your child and Kiddo’s (feelings, comfort, enjoyment).
If Kiddo brings up Mate during the conversation, you do not have to change the subject. You do, however, need to approach the subject carefully to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Refer to Mate in reference to the familial connection to Kiddo.
- I am glad you had a good time with your Parent.
- I bet your Parent looked silly on roller blades.
- Your Parent loves you.
We cannot afford it.
Childhood is a magical time where such mundane subjects like personal finance and due dates never intrude. Divorce should not change that. Many adults admit they grew up poor, but never knew it. This is a lesson for divorcing parents. Your child need not know splitting of the marital finances is to blame for the lack of disposable income.
If the change in funds means a lifestyle adjustment, keep the blame on the lack of money itself sans the qualifier which names Mate as the cause. Choose instead to introduce savings to Kiddo. Make it a learning experience.
Kiddo has problems. As if childhood did not hold the enough agony with teenagerhood, life as Kiddo knew it has disappeared. One of the lead thespians in the movie of life has exited stage left. It is your job as a parent to alleviate Kiddo’s strife.
Ask about Kiddo’s feelings, but do not pressure for answers. When your child is ready to talk, discussion you shall have. Offer it regularly, especially if you first meet with resistance.
Create a safe haven in your home where Kiddo is not threatened. Make special time for the two of you to engage Kiddo’s enjoyable interests. Schedule time for Kiddo to spend with other family and special adults to replace some of the time Mate would have otherwise occupied. Most importantly, tell Kiddo the magic words: I love you.
Disclaimer: Even if your child exhibits advanced maturity or is over the age of majority, choose proactive positive behavior to minimize the trauma of divorce. These suggestions are offered as general guidelines for adult behavior during a divorce and are not intended as psychological advice in lieu of professional help. Information offered in this blog series derives from the author’s personal observation of families in divorce situations. In the event of emergent symptoms of psychiatric disruption, seek immediate medical/psychiatric assistance.
To follow this series from the beginning, start with It Is Over and Children Do Not Divorce.
How can you add positivity to the life of a child of divorce? Have you been a special adult for a child of divorce?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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