So think about it. We sit down with our children to tell them that we have decided to get a divorce. They probably knew it was coming because they have heard the fighting and arguing. We’ve read a few books about how to tell children a divorce will be in their future, and we have even practiced our speeches to them a few times. We make sure to tell them we still love them, and we tell them in very clear no-nonsense language that “this divorce is NOT YOUR FAULT.” We make sure they don’t feel like they caused our problems, and we get their verbal confirmation just to seal the deal. Great! We’ve done our jobs there, right? OUR kids won’t feel like our divorce is their fault, right?
That all depends on what happens next. So you’re done with your family meeting and the very next morning you and their mom/dad are on the phone arguing about who’s taking them to soccer tonight. “You take them, I’ve got a meeting!” “Yeah, well I’m going out with friends, so YOU take them!” Hmmm. Sounds like THE KIDS ARE THE PROBLEM, doesn’t it? If Mom and Dad didn’t fight about us all the time, what would they fight about?
Is this starting to make sense? Children will pay much more attention to what we do than they will to what we say. We can promise them that our divorce is not their fault until we are blue in the face and they have lapsed into a trance, but if our actions don’t back that up they won’t, and shouldn’t, believe us. We want to help train our children to learn who and how to trust, and our best shot at doing that is to live consistently with what we preach.
If we are fighting openly in front of our children ABOUT our children, we are confirming to them that they indeed ARE the problem, and the cause for their divorce, whether they are or not. Children need to find ways to make sense of behavior that is confusing or frightening for them, and if the best explanation for your fighting is that it’s their fault, that is what will “stick” for them.
How do you avoid this? Plan regular phone conversations for scheduling and parenting talks when the children will not be present. Don’t try to make arrangements or changes during drop-offs and pick-ups, and don’t bring up any topics that are sure to be “flammable” when the children are present.
The most important thing you can do is to be aware of your own interactions and behaviors, stay in control of your anger or frustrations, and SHOW your children that you and their other parent are able to parent cooperatively even though you are no longer together. If you need help to do that, get it. It will be a very important investment in your children’s future.
Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC is a therapist who specializes in individual, family, and couples and marriage counseling in Denver, CO. She provides services through Maria Droste Counseling Center.