Parent Trap: Divorced Parents, Divorced Kids
Amy’s parents have been divorced for six years, but they still hate each other and have fights at drop-offs and over the phone. It’s been hard for Amy to move on from the breakup because her parents reopen her wounds with each fight.
Tess’s mom bombards her with questions every time she comes home from a weekend at her dad’s. She feels like her mom is searching for bad stories she could use against her dad in court.
Both of Jen’s parents talk badly to her about each other, and often she becomes the messenger between them. This has put Jen in an uncomfortable position of having to take sides.
These are three of the most harmful behaviors kids can experience after a divorce. The examples represent parents who have not done the work necessary to heal after the split, and their residual feelings of anger, hurt and resentment unfortunately carry over to their children. Kids of divorced parents have their own load of emotions to work through, and they don’t need their parents’ issues adding to the burden.
Every divorced couple with kids should go through counseling together to figure out how to co-parent peacefully. They also need to seek individual therapy to work through their emotions, learn from the failed marriage, learn how to forgive and move on with their new lives.
Ask open-ended questions when your child comes back after a weekend with the other parent: What did you do that was fun? What was your favorite part of the weekend? If you are a nonjudgmental listener, your kids will feel safe to share if there is something on their minds, and you won’t need to go fishing for negatives.
Never put kids in the middle, or ask them to be the messenger between parents. Never criticize or vent about your ex; talk things out with your friends or a therapist. Do whatever you need to do—talk to a counselor or lawyer, pray, exercise—to handle any grievances and anger so you don’t fight in front of your children. Having parents who are respectful and cooperative is vital for kids to deal with their own feelings post-divorce. Amy, Tess and Jen’s parents are not putting their children’s interests first. Do whatever it takes to be the parent your children need.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. He recently launched an online video parents course, Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.