Who has Dealt with the Pain
of Many Children Whose Parents Act Irrationally During Divorce
Tells It Like It Is!
It is tough
to be a child of divorced parents. It is absolutely terrifying
to be the child of divorced parents who are at war with each
other! Divorce hurts. It is a terrible thing to have happen
to a family. Everyone gets hurt, but children remain scarred
for years when parents continue the war. Research shows that
negative behaviors from parents act after a divorce can cause
more problems to a child than the divorce itself.
three ways of acting that divorcing parents can make. These
three ways of acting during and after a divorce are (1.) Argumentative,
(2.) Disengagement, (3.) Cooperating. The type of arrangement
that you engage in, is directly related to the level of your
who are getting divorced often try to control the person they
are divorcing. Rationally, this makes no sense. If you couldn't
change your spouse when you were married to them, there is no
way you can force change on them now. You can't win by demanding,
yelling or saying bad things about your ex. Anger only escalates
the conflict in the situation and then both sides dig their
heels in and the child loses.
Evans in her important book The Verbally Abusive Relationship,
says that verbal abusers often have had an insecure childhood
that created an unhealthy (sometimes abnormal) need to control
others. OR they were spoiled when they were young and continue
to think that everything should go their way. Evans says people
who yell and scream at others really don't have their own personal
power. So the abuser avoids feelings of powerlessness by trying
to dominate and control others.
let your child be a witness to your anger at his or her other
parent. Belittling your child's mother or father is a form of
child abuse that can affect your child's self esteem permanently.
Your child is half of the other parent. If you criticize your
ex, your child will feel ashamed of half of him or herself.
You WILL hurt your child if you habitually yell at your ex,
trash talk about them, if you are self righteous in explaining
how wrong their point of view is or if you try to evade the
legal custody arrangement.
the greater a person's sense of guilt about how they have acted
in the marriage or during the divorce, the greater their need
to cast blame on others and not take responsibility for their
own behavior. So look to your own motives if you act out your
anger by blaming your ex.
taunting, cursing and calling others names or making threats
are all verbal abuse! If you habitually yell, threaten, tell
the other that he or she is wrong and call them dumb, stupid,
that is abuse! If you twist things around, try to have the last
word, pick fights and look for the wrong in everything your
ex spouse does to start arguments or threaten to go back to
court frequently over small things, guess what? You are a verbal
mouthing your ex, you add to their stress and parental stress
deeply effects the harmony of your child. Being a single parent
is hard. If you think of the best interests of your child, you
will want to support your ex spouse emotionally, rather than
create more stress for them. The more you keep your anger in
check, the better off your child will be.
in inappropriate verbal behavior comes down to being ego invested
that you are right. It often is based on the egotistical idea
that you are so unique a person that the rules of basic kindness
which apply to others shouldn't apply to you, especially where
your ex spouse is concerned. The rules of kindness always apply
even though your former spouse may be angry, manipulative, or
downright mean. Keep your integrity by refusing to stoop to
a low level. Find safe outlets for your anger. If you can't
control your anger when you talk to your ex about visitation
arrangements by yourself, take an anger management class.
of Your Immature Behavior Only Perpetuates the Problem
think you aren't hurting your child when you rag about their
other parent, you are in denial. Keep a check on how you deny
your inappropriate behavior. Denial distorts reality by seeing
all the wrong your ex does, while telling yourself that your
behavior is impeccable. You may minimize and ignore the damage
that your actions cause your child. You may rationalize actions
and make excuses for your bad behavior. Rationalizing is always
lying to yourself. Energy is put in to justifying your behavior
instead of seeking solutions to help your child deal with one
of the greatest losses he or she will ever face--the intact
you blame anyone other than yourself for your anger, that is
denial, for sure. Denial of your own anger is a way of lying
to yourself. Lying can become more and more practiced until
you can convince yourself that you are blameless. Convincing
yourself of how bad the other parent is, always backfires on
you and damages your child. Your child is a little pitcher with
big ears who takes everything he hears in. In addition, you
teach your child that not only do marriages end, but it is okay
for people who used to love each other to treat each other badly.
that you say that follows the word "but" is frequently denial.
(I didn't mean to yell at him, but he made me so mad.) When
you are unwilling to look at what you are doing because you
fear finding out you are wrong, that is denial. The only cure
for denial is to give up the lies and admit to yourself the
reality of the harm your child faces. Divorce is hard enough
for the child, don't add parental immaturity to what your child
has already suffered.
Dos and Don'ts for Parents Behaving Badly
So, it is
grow up time! Maturity is dealing with custody issues and creating
happy transitions between the two homes. Your child will "win"
after a divorce if he is given the best of both worlds--mom's
house and dad's house. This is the best gift you can give your
child who is hurting and confused because his basic security
has been threatened.
* If you
want to do something invaluable for your child, create a positive
relationship with your ex. If you can't be positive, at least
be civil. Remaining civil, in the face of great anger, shows
that you are being mature. Someday when your child is grown,
they will thank you for keeping a cool head during the difficult
discuss your ex with your child. Do not talk about your ex when
your child can overhear it. Your child wants to be loyal to
both mom and dad. Hearing one parent trash the other sets up
confusion and not knowing what to believe. If what you say is
inaccurate, based on your feelings of hurt and betrayal, your
child will eventually figure it out and distance from you. Children
bond with parents with whom they feel safe. Your child will
not feel safe to talk about unhappy feelings if you are bashing
his or her mother or dad.
* Do not
ask your child to carry messages between you and your ex. That
puts the child in the middle and creates confusion. Work out
some amiable way of discussing situations with your ex. Be the
bigger person and insist on being straight forward to calm things
between you and your ex.
thinking of your former spouse as your ex-wife or ex-husband.
Think of them as the mother of your child or the father of your
child. Your new relationship with them is to become the best
parents of the child or children that you have created together.
You have a responsibility to find ways to develop a working
relationship with them to co-parent your child. That is your
new job description.
you chose this person to be the mother or father of your child.
There must have been good points for you to choose them for
this most important role. Think back and focus on the good aspects
of your former spouse. Look for ways that they are being an
effective parent. Keep your mind on their positive points, not
on what they are doing wrong.
thinking about the money or visitation issues and how unfairly
you have it. What is, is. If you don't like your reality about
the settlement, do something about it. Either go back to court
and get it changed or let it go. Put up or shut up. No matter
how bad or rotten you now think your ex is, no matter how bad
and rotten your ex may actually be, you make it worse by dwelling
on it. Dwelling on unfairness only makes you miserable and blocks
your ability to move ahead in life. Children deserve a parent
who isn't always bent out of shape because he or she doesn't
like the legal arrangements.
ask your child about what the other parent does. It is none
of your business and may signal some hidden jealousy on your
part. Don't check up on them or feel that you have a right to
make judgements about what he or she is doing. Divorce took
away that right. Having to report on or answer questions about
the absent mother or father puts your child in a lose-lose scene.
Grilling your child will backfire on you--you will lose his
or her trust.
ex's decisions and behavior are totally their own responsibility
unless, of course, your child is placed in a harmful situation.
Then you are obliged to speak up. Do a reality check with a
neutral third party to see if there is actual harm to your child
or you are just upset. If your child complains about small ways
he is being treated by your ex, and your ex is unable to hear
you, tell your child that he must address it with that parent.
You can't troubleshoot for him in this situation. If he can't
speak up, get him into counseling so that he can become more
assertive or at least learn to deal with the situation.
and think of each demand that you make on the mother or father
of your child and the direct consequences it will have on your
child. Follow visitation times to the letter. Not following
the legal arrangements or asking to change visitation dates
only causes more conflict for your child.
* You play
games with your child's mind if you do not show up on time or
not at all or if you do not bring your child home at the agreed
upon time. Your child will keep score on this. Some children
sit by the window for hours waiting for a parent who doesn't
show up. They may pretend they don't care, but they will feel
abandoned if you don't keep your word. Their anger about being
lied to may take years to surface, but it will come out at you
at some time in the future. Your lifelong relationship with
your child is at stake. Do what you say you will do. You brought
this child into the world and now you have a responsibility
to be the grownup and a stable parent.
* If your
new love interest or partner is insecure, he or she may intensify
the bad situation by adding fuel to the flame. Be wary about
their agenda if they initiate anger related discussions with
you on a regular basis about the unfairness of your ex spouse.
You probably feel hurt and betrayed enough which leads to your
becoming angrier. A more mature partner will support your decisions
about custody but will not become overly emotionally involved
fueling your anger so that the situation actually get worse.
your hurt and anger out on your ex-spouse WILL damage your child.
How you deal with your ex is another indicator of your self-esteem
and maturity. If you are raging, then you have lots of problems
to work out. If you blow it and act out with anger, apologize
to your ex and to your child. Then make a resolution to better
in the future. Keep working at keeping your temper under control
You don't have to be a jerk where the parent of your child is
concerned. You don't have to be a jerk in any situation. Acting
like a jerk is your choice--let your conscience be your guide,
not your righteous indignation.
Go of the Past and Moving On to Your New Life
If a lot
of your energy is going to fighting your ex, instead of getting
on with your life, you have a serious problem. Swallow your
pride and break into any denial about how your angry acting
out does not hurt your child. If your conflict with your ex
spouse causes problems in your new relationship, get help. If
you and your new love can't get it together on discipline, take
a step parenting class or at least read some books on step parenting.
If you can't work out your frustration on your own, get help.
If you have been trying to calm your anger, but it's not working,
that's a signal you need someone to help you get a handle on
anger to make a positive difference in your future. Anger is
a momentum which gives energy for change. Use it to get off
dead center and invest it in making a difference. Go to Divorce
Recovery classes or anger management counseling.
get one chance in the raising of your child. The childhood years
cannot be taken back and redone. If you blow it, your child
suffers for life! Professional help is available. There are
agencies that have a sliding scale for counseling to fit your
circumstances. Even if it costs some money, get help. Money
is not the object here. Your child's success in life is the
important thing. You are worth it. Your kids are worth it.
goal to get a working relationship with the other parent of
your child. If you are willing to see how your angry actions
affect your child and do something about it, your child has
the best chance for a happy future. The pain of the divorce
can start to heal for everyone. Your life will become happier
and get back on even keel, Remember, the best revenge for the
misery of divorce is making a good life for yourself! And your
child will be the better for your investment in his and your
Book of Rights of a Child in a Divorce
- To be
told that my mother and father still love me and will never
- To be
told that the divorce is not my fault and not to be told about
the adult problems that caused it.
- To be
treated as a human being---not as another piece of property
to be fought over, bargained over or threatened.
- To have
decisions about me based on my best interest, rather than
past wrongs, hurt feelings, or parent's needs.
- To love
both my parents without being forced to choose or feel guilty.
- To know
both my parents through regular, frequent involvement in my
- To have
the financial support of both my father and mother.
- To be
spared hearing bad hurtful comments about either of my parents
which have no useful purpose.
- Not to
be asked to tell a lie or act as a spy or messenger.
- To be
allowed to care about others without having to choose or feel
Resources for Parents
the best books on getting along with your ex spouse is Mom's
House, Dad's House: A Complete Guide For Parents Who Are Separated,
Divorced Or Remarried by Isolina Ricci.
Do a reality
check on yourself and your anger by reading The Verbally Abusive
Relationship by Patricia Evans.
these web pages regarding the effects of divorce on children.
Also do a web search on "divorce" to find other helpful pages.
own award-winning web pages on anger management at
- PEDIATRIC NEWS: Avoiding Post-divorce Pitfalls That Damage
Predictors of successful adolescent development after divorce
include repartnering of the custodial parent and time with the
noncustodial parent. (To access the article you will have to
register with Medscape. Registration is free.)
COUNSELING ASSOCIATION: Frequently Asked Questions in Marriage
and Family Counseling
and ethical questions are given in counseling clients involved
in divorce or custody proceedings.
OF FAMILY PSYCHOLOGY: Delinquent Behavior, Future Divorce or
Nonmarital Childbearing, and Externalizing Behavior Among Offspring:
This 14 year study concludes that parents' personal behavior
and personality have a greater impact on their children's behavior
than the parents' marital status!
ASSOCIATION OF MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPY: Making Custody Agreements
to help families structure custody agreements that will encourage
connections to the absent parent.
UNIVERSITY: Divorce Matters: Talking With Your Child's Other
Parent . A good handout for divorcing parents.
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