When two people get married it is not with the intention of getting divorced. On that day of celebration, you aren’t thinking “Whooo boy I can’t wait until this marriage is over!”
Sadly, though according to the CDC 2.9 per 1, 000 marriages end in divorce. The pain of a divorce can be debilitating to parents and children alike; especially when there has been high conflict.
When there has been high conflict it can trigger a rupture in the primary attachment between the child and the parent. It is extremely damaging to the child’s overall development and mental health. In extreme cases children can feel so disconnected and alienated from a parent that they refuse to see the parent, grow angry and sometimes violent if forced to see the alienated parent, can become manipulative, lie about alleged grievances against the alienated parent and develop unhealthy coping strategies that negatively impact other relationships.
It is imperative that parents support their child having a healthy relationship with the other parent post-divorce whenever possible. It is understood that in cases of abuse and neglect attaining a healthy and safe relationship will need a lot more care and professional support.
So how can this be prevented? It is important for parents to separate out their feelings for their partner/spouse from the relationship they have with their child. Children often want their family back together even when there has been a lot of fighting or disagreement.
Growing and healing after a divorce takes time and loving support. For some families the feelings of rejection and abandonment run so deep that the healing process can take a long time and need some extra help from a therapist. Play therapy is an ideal way to work through thoughts and feelings about the divorce. Play allows us to work on the problem even when there aren’t words to describe what is being felt. Whenever possible Family Play Therapy should be considered to help all members of the family work through the issues.
Parents are forever. Even children who have suffered abuse from a parent can have a lingering desire to have a relationship with that parent. Post-divorce families are challenged in new ways to meet the needs of the children.
Here are a few tips to help you decrease the emotional impact of the divorce on your child that allows them to grow and thrive post-divorce.
- Refrain from discussing the other parent in front of your child. Separation of the couple relationship from the parent relationship is vital to having children not feel pulled to take care of one parent over another.
- Support the child having a positive relationship with the other parent whenever possible.
- Keep the conflicts between the parents as far away from the child as possible. If your child asks you about the conflict you can say something like, “Sometimes Mom and I don’t agree but it has nothing to do with you.”
- Be reassuring and validate your child’s feelings. The child still loves both parents. They often have their own sense of confusion about the divorce because it wasn’t something they wanted. There are families when there is so much conflict not having the parents married any longer comes as a relief because not there isn’t daily conflict and strife in the home.
- Maintain healthy boundaries with discipline and reasonable consequences for misbehavior. Consistency in parenting if very important; it increases an internal sense of safety after all the big changes that have occurred because of the divorce.
- Make sure that your child is not aware of any court involvement. The legal system by its very nature is an adversarial one. The disagreements and conflicts that emerge throughout the divorce process have to be negotiated and this can cause a negative emotional response from both parties. Keeping your child away from this allows them to have the relationship they need to have with each parent without taking sides.
- Enjoy the time you have with y our child. Go play! Focus your time with your child on building a positive attachment that allows them to grow and develop naturally.
- Recognize and reinforce with your child that although there is a new way of viewing the family – family is forever and your child can rely on the family to be there for him/her when needed.
We hope these tips help you and your family decrease the emotional impact of divorce. We know being a good parent today has many joys and challenges. We at Treehouse Family Counseling Services are here to help you be the best parent you can be. Give us a call if you have any questions or need support. We are here to help.
Mary Ruth Cross, MS, MFT, NCC, RPT-S