Research shows that what impacts children of divorce the most is not the divorce itself, but rather the prolonged conflict and tension between the parents. The more parents can do to minimize tension and conflict, the better off the entire family will be.
It is clear the relationships we witness as children affect our relationships as adults. The more parents can model healthy relationships, especially in times of conflict, the better off the child’s view of relationships will be. Parents – usually unintentionally – may do things during or after the divorce that can negatively impact the children. A few ways to minimize the negative impact are outlined below.
Avoid speaking negatively about the other parent.
The most common issue I see in my divorce cases is a parent speaking negatively about the other parent. Children inherently know that they are a part of their mother and a part of their father. When a parent speaks badly about the other parent, children tend to internalize that and may think they portray the same characteristics as the “bad parent,” which could cause self-doubt or anxiety in the child. In some relationships, it is impossible to eliminate parental conflict, but research shows that having one parent speak positively of the other parent balances out the negativity the child hears from the other parent, thus reducing the overall sense of conflict.
Avoid Saying too much.
Children should not know the amount of child support their parents are paying/receiving, who is getting what in the divorce settlement, what child support is supposed to pay for, and the like. Remember when speaking to your child, that the person listening is your child, not a friend in whom you can confide – leave that to your therapist or adult friends who are better equipped to be of support.
Do not make the child choose a parent or take sides.
Children should not have to choose between parents—whether talking about which parent they should primarily live with, which parent they should chose to spend a holiday with, or even minor decisions—these decisions and discussions need to be between the parents, not the children. Children want to please both parents and making children choose between parents will only cause your child anxiety in the long-run and truly impact them well into their adulthood. Be patient with your child and try not to take things personally.
Take it slow when introducing a new partner.
The needs of the parent and the needs of the child rarely are the same when it comes to introducing a new romantic partner, and it is important for parents to keep their child’s interests at the forefront. Be sure the new relationship is serious before introducing someone to your children. Your children have recently experienced the divorce of their parents and do not need to go through another breakup in the short term.
Take care of yourself, too.
While children do need plenty of support during these times, parents should not disregard their own needs. If a parent is feeling negative effects throughout the divorce, it can impede their ability to take care of the child. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Bear in mind that children benefit from emotionally stable parents who can focus on the huge job that is parenting – exercising reasonable discipline, providing love and support, and being emotionally responsive. But parents do not need to be married or living in the same home in order to be emotionally stable. Choose your words carefully and be mindful of how your behavior towards former spouse impacts your children now and in the future.