When a couple decides to start a life together and found a family, it will be forever. But if joint life isn’t what they expected, if misunderstandings and problems are frequent and fights are constant and heavy, they realize it is the time for a divorce. But, what about children? Divorce: What About Children?
The divorce should be a relief for them and children too. But the relief doesn’t come quickly and easily.
What About Children?
Children, no matter how old they are, feel that something isn’t right between their parents. No matter how hard you try to hide misunderstandings and fights from them, your feelings and concerns are expressed through non-verbal signs and children recognize them.
Children also associate the events in their surroundings with themselves. In other words, they think that they are responsible for what is going on between parents. The younger the child is, the phenomenon is more accented and more dangerous.
Children often feel confused because they don’t know what’s happening whit their parents. Their thoughts and reactions are:
- Children are concerned for their parents and they try to cheer them up
- They don’t want to burden their parents with their problems, so they withdraw into themselves and hide their problems
- They feel guilty because they think they did something wrong.
In any case, we deal with the inversion of roles and responsibilities in the child’s head. Children believe that they are responsible for their parents, that they did something wrong and that they need to correct something and have to take care of the happiness of their parents.
This way of thinking puts children in a very heavy position because they take too much of a burden on themselves. The consequences are withdrawal or sudden outbursts of anger, antisocial behavior, blackmailing parents or blaming parents that they want to destroy a family because they want to divorce.
Understanding children’s way of thinking and reasons for their weird and unadjusted behavior can help parents to give adequate explanations, support, and security, which children need in the divorcing process.
Parents could and should help their children to overcome the crisis of divorce as follows:
- Explain to the children that divorce is a parents’ decision and does not apply to them in any way. They are not responsible for the breakup in any way so they can’t do anything to stop a divorce. The responsibility is entirely on the parents.
- To make sure that children feel that their parents love them unconditionally even though they no longer love each other. Love toward children has nothing to do with love toward the partner.
- Children have a right to maintain contact with another parent, also they have a right to build a relationship with each of the parents without other parent’s interfering.
- Parents should make a deal with whom the children will continue to live and how and when the children will be seeing another parent.
- The reorganization in the children’s life doesn’t mean that the child stops to have their rights and obligations.
Why parents should not ask the children with whom they want to live after divorce?
The child loves both of the parents no matter who they are. Even if one of the parents neglects his parent role, for the child they are the only mother/father that they have and accept them as they are. For that reason, it is a too big and unjustified burden for a child to decide alone with whom to live in the future.
The children think that they need to please each of the parents and that they will certainly disappoint someone with their decision. This is unnecessary and unjustified guilt for the child because they are not responsible for a divorce, therefore they do not have to take responsibility for arranging to parent after divorce.
Parents need to make a deal toward this question and arrange a possibility for children to make contact with another parent when they want it.
What should you tell the child about bitter accusations (or facts) that happened in the marriage?
No matter how much we try to hide quarrels and ugly behaviors from the children, they will see or hear something. It could happen that we, in the moments of our weakness, frustration, anger, or despair, tell the child something ugly about the other parent.
We can act in ways that we regret later. It is important for a child to obtain permission to form his or her own opinion of the parent on based on his or her parenting to him/her and not on the behavior towards the other parent.
A bad partner does not necessarily mean a bad parent. The termination of love between partners does not mean the termination of love for the child. That is why it is important to refrain from accusations against the other parent in a child’s presence, and if you have said something wrong, to distance yourself in a way that what you have said is related to your partner relationship, but not to the child’s relationship with their parent.
Written by Jadranka Todorovic Grulovic, psychologist
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