Ways Parents can Help their Children with the Stress of Divorce
Contributed by Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD, DLFAPA
The problem is massive: half of marriages end in divorce. This is due to numerous combining factors: both parents working and hardly seeing each other, or having any time together for intimate loving moments reinforcing the bonding; and both busy and tired as they work to make ends meet.
There is also the emphasis of our culture on individualism, as we easily and too often are short on grace or forbearance for the short-comings of each other, as well the unfortunate display of just plain bad manners to each other.
Nevertheless, the emotional turmoil and the possible lasting effects on the kids are rarely being addressed; such as, the emotional pain and fear in witnessing discord and harshness between their parents who exchange bad words and accusations — often in front them. Also, children are often asked to choose sides by the divorcing parents. There are conflicting patterns and attitudes in raising children by the parents when they have joint custody.
All of these create pressures and stress and conflicts — on the kids. These factors may have lasting effects on them, including anxiety, depression, distrust in forming future intimacies and bonds, uneasiness about the trustworthiness of grown-ups and authorities in general, as well as resorting to acting out in a disorderly manner — whether in school, society, or the family.
It is important for parents, in trying to lessen these possible effects, that they should always have in mind an important fact: while the divorced couple may perceive themselves angrily as adversaries — eager to recount each other’s bad points and shortcomings, even in front of the kids — for the children the now-warring individuals happen to be their father and mother — who they love and look up to for continuing protection and support. So each of the divorced parents should never castigate (bad mouth) the other parent in front of the kids.
In fact, carefully outline the above fact that while the parents do not want to be together any longer, each is still the mother and the father for the children. If possible, talk with some praise for each other.
Another principle is that the sooner the parents stabilize the new arrangement, the better — especially if they then maintain some friendship and civility.
The third principle is to have conferences with each other as parents in order to calibrate a common attitude and policy regarding the constraints, the discipline, the structure, and the punishment of the kids. This may give the children a continuity and prevent their being able cynically to play one parent against the other.
It will help if yearly festivities are shared like birthdays, Christmas, and other holidays, are celebrated together. Parents should also make sure not to split other events such as school functions or performances.
Discord and disagreements between parents regarding matters of faith should be settled between themselves, while for the kids both emphasize the positive aspects of all faiths.
Copyright © 2016 by Nicholas Pediaditakis, MD
For more information on Dr. Pediaditakis and his Raleigh NC mental health clinic, visit his Facebook page.