How many times have you heard parents relent that they are unable to divorce because of the harm it will do to their children? I hear this more often than I would like. From my perspective, if someone is in an unhappy marriage the best thing they can do for everyone involved, is to dissolve it. Using your children as a reason to stay in an unhealthy and untenable situation is a bad idea for all concerned.
Most of the 1.5 million children of divorce do well in the long term according the research sited by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld in their article “Is Divorce Bad For Children” (Scientific American Mind, March/April 2013 p. 68-69). The researchers found that the children of divorce showed small differences in their overall social and emotional well being over those of married couples.
There were two situations that created the most angst from children:
1. Children do poorly with high levels of conflict during and after the divorce that are between you and your children’s other parent. Keep these conflicts to a minimum to help your children feel more secure through the process of divorce while minimizing emotional damage.
2. When parents didn’t express their marital issues, they surprised and in some cases terrified their children when the upcoming divorce was announced. Interestingly enough, those children who experience much tension between their parents before the divorce adjust better than those who experience little discord between their parents. These children happy to know that the fighting is coming to an end. Be honest with your kids about the situation between you and your spouse, speaking to them at their level of understanding.
One of the most common issues that arise in children regarding divorce is that of the child blaming him/herself for the divorce. I had a 10 year old boy come in for a session who was acting out in anger, pushing people. His dad really was not certain what the true issue here was because there were some serious problems going on with his mother at the time, along with some changes in the household itself. During the session his dad was present. I asked this little boy what was going one with him and why it was that he was feeling so angry. He answered quite honestly that he thought that it was his fault that his parents got divorced. To his father’s credit he was able to explain that just as his son sometimes has friends that he no longer feels friendly toward for whatever the reason, this is what happened to him and mommy.
If you have a child that is acting angry or even if the child is acting withdrawn, go ahead and simply ask what is on the child’s mind. If the child is able to express it, you will be able to have an honest discussion about how friendships can change over time. In this case the child understood that his mother had some serious emotional issues that she was going through. What he didn’t understand was that it was his mother’s issues that created the problems in the marriage, having nothing to do with him.
If your child is unwilling to speak to you, do go seek out some professional help. It will be better for your child and for the family as a whole.
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