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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Help Children Cope with Divorce – Maturely

Reports indicate that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have decided, for the sake of their daughter, Suri, to handle their divorce maturely. 

If only more parents were so wise.

In 2001 a Minnesota Judge (Michael Haas), wrote, "Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault.

No matter what you think of the other party – or what your family thinks of the other party – these children are one-half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your children what an 'idiot' his father is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.

That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is NOT (emphasis mine) love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions." (Thank you, Vicki, for posting that information.)

Judge Haas expresses the feelings of many people who observe divorced couples doing exactly the opposite of what Judge Haas advocates. Divorce is hard enough on adults, but it traumatizes children. While you, as the custodial parent, are supposed to be available to your children to help them through this difficult time in their lives, you often find that you are so consumed with your own anger/grief/exasperation that you have little to no time for them. 

You either stay home and hibernate in your room, effectively shutting them out of your life, or you sign them up for all kinds of activities to occupy their time – after they spend half the day in school, and bury yourself in activities that exclude your children. When it comes to time they could be spending with you, for example, you spend that time either texting, working on your laptop, reading books, watching TV, or finding a myriad of other distractions to prevent you from being emotionally available to your kids.

Learn to listen for cues (and clues) from your children. What do they need from you? Usually the answer to that question is time. Give it to them.

Be Present For Your Children

Spending time with your children doesn't mean sitting next to them absorbed in thoughts about everything other than your children. You CAN and SHOULD be present for – and available to – them. Your children NEED you, not 24/7, but throughout the day (they will let you know when they need you). Unless you have a child who talks incessantly, allow your children to interrupt what you are doing so that you can BE THERE for them (with the understanding that if you work out of your home, sometimes you have to devote specific hours to your work – explain to them ahead of time exactly which hours you need for work). 

Also – news flash – they NEED the other parent too. 

Too many parents try to convince their children that the noncustodial parent (NP) doesn't love them as much as the custodial parent (CP) does. I was one of those people. I used to believe that nobody could love a child more than a mother does. And then I met some amazing fathers who proved me wrong. 

Fathers love their children just as much as do the mothers who carried them. Don't deceive yourself into believing that nobody loves your child as much as you do. It would be in your child's best interest if you understood that others will love your child just as much as you love your child. You should hope that when your children decide to marry (if they marry) they choose someone who will love them as unconditionally as you do. Your child needs to know that he or she is worthy of being loved by more people than just you.

And make sure your children know you love them. Don't deceive yourself into believing that your children know you love them, just because you think you have met their needs. Your perceptions of your love for your child may differ from your child's perceptions. You have to show your children you love them in the way they need to receive love. One child may need you to play with her or spend time with her while another will need you to hug him and still another will need to hear the words, "I love you" often. Get to know your children. Understand their needs. Meet – even better – exceed their expectations.

Don't Manipulate Your Children

Please allow me to save you from years of grief. At some point your little 3 or 4 year old will become an adult. Long before he or she becomes an adult, this child will recognize the manipulative ways of the parent who prevented him or her from truly getting to know the noncustodial parent. Even at the age of 7, a child is fully capable of detecting lies. And when those lies build up year after year, your children will seek out their other parent if for no other reason than to prove you wrong. Many CPs have lost their children because they deceived them into believing lies they told their children about the NP. One surefire way of losing the respect of your children is to lie to them.

Assuming that both parents are not physically, psychologically, or emotionally abusive (some parents exaggerate here so please be honest), that your kids miss the noncustodial parent, and that they are upset by the separation of their parents, know this: Children don't need one parent – or both parents – to help them feel worse about this devastating upset in their lives. I have seen too many children damaged by the divorce of parents who force their children, whether overtly or covertly, to take sides. The divorce is between you and your spouse. Don't drag your children through your divorce. 

If you truly love your children, you can stop the damaging effects that divorce has on them in so many ways. Here are more ways to help your children cope with the trauma of divorce.

Do NOT Belittle the Noncustodial Parent

Children love both of you. And don't think they can't hear you when you sneak in your snide remarks about the other parent. You and I both know they are listening. You may be patting yourself on the back for coming up with some snappy little stab-in-the-back comments, but that knife is going straight through the hearts of your children. In other words, you HURT them every time you belittle the NP.

Children need you to understand that they still love the other parent.

Do NOT Lie to Your Children

When you lie to your kids and tell them not to tell the other parent something you know you shouldn't have done or said, you put your children in a precarious situation. Lying places a heavy burden on their shoulders when they feel they have to protect the lie (you) and then betray the other parent. Be a GOOD example. If your children see lying as acceptable, don't get upset with them for trying it on you!

Do Not Include Children in Adult Issues

Kids don't need to know that Mom or Dad couldn't afford to pay the electric bill because the NP is a horrible person. They don't need to know the information in your divorce decree. Don't share personal information about the divorce with your children. The divorce is not their burden to carry.

However, children need to know that both parents are responsible for raising the kids. And if one parent is shirking his or her financial responsibilities and the lack of money is preventing your child from getting school supplies, say, "I didn't get the child support check in time," or "The child support was less than it was supposed to be," instead of, "that stupid idiot of a father of yours didn't give me the money he was supposed to." Bash the situation – not the parent. Kids know who pays the child support and will eventually understand who is to blame for their embarrassment when they show up at school without supplies.

An interesting aside here about child support – child support is supposed to go for the raising of the child – if children see the CP buying lots of clothes, shoes, electronic equipment, etc. for him- or herself, and he or she complains about lack of money for what was supposed to have gone for the children, don't use child support as an excuse. I've seen parents bash the ex for lack of money and then fill the home with costly items and miscellaneous unnecessary expenses that could have paid for food, living expenses, and clothing for the children.

Recognize that You are NOT the Only Person Who Loves Your Children

As mentioned earlier, you are NOT the only person who loves your children. Much as you would like to believe that the other parent is no longer part of your children's lives, you have to understand that the other parent IS the other parent. When the noncustodial parent calls to speak to the children, allow – no, encourage – your children to speak to their other parent! Some day, when they become old enough to recognize the deceitful ways you used to prevent them from talking to their parent, everything will backfire and you'll wish you could go back in time to change things. 

Take this as a warning: if you don't want your children abandoning you in the future, don't set up a situation where you are promoting abandonment of the other parent now.

Do not take them away from extended family that belongs to the NP either. Don't deny them the love they should be receiving from other family members. You should want your children to feel love from as many people as possible. It will enhance their self esteem, and they will feel loved, nurtured, and wanted.

Promote Connection With the Other Parent

Sometimes kids truly are too busy to talk to the NP, especially if they are in the middle of basketball practice. However, when EVERY TIME the NP calls to speak to the children, you come up with an excuse, the pleasure you derive from knowing you have successfully prevented communication with the other parent is an attitude you should work hard to control. Deriving pleasure from your children's pain is immature and foolish.

When the noncustodial parent calls to speak to his or her children, do you answer your phone? Or do you ignore the call, because you have placed your children in so many after-school activities, you have made it nearly impossible for the noncustodial parent to connect with his or her children. Do you smile, knowing you have hurt the NP? When weekends come, do you fill their Saturdays and Sundays with so many activities, the weekend passes with no time for the NP? Are you thinking, Oh, well, the NP got what he or she deserved? 

You ignore phone calls the NP makes to your kids. Another week goes by that you have deprived your children time with their noncustodial father or mother. You can't think of a better way to punish the NP, because after all the pain the NP caused you, he deserves to feel some of that pain. Right?

Wrong! Your ex is not the only person you are hurting. You are also hurting YOUR children. Deliberately.

Your children deserve to speak to the other parent. When the roles are reversed and the NP has the children for a long period of time, wouldn't you become incensed if they didn't speak to you? Children who don't want to speak to the NP because they are in the middle of something fun might tell you, "Not now," but they also say the same thing when the NP asks his or her kids if they want to talk to you. So when Mom or Dad calls to speak to his or her children, encourage your children to speak to their other parent whether you are the NP or the CP.

Understand – Your Kids Have a Choice

One day your children will discover that they have a choice about where they can live. If you manipulate them with exaggerations and lies about the NP, they will eventually resent you and will want to make up for lost time. Pressuring them into loving you more than the other parent by instilling guilt into their little psyches will come back to haunt you some day. 

Your kids want and NEED to have a relationship with BOTH of you. You would be amazed at how easily children recognize manipulation. And when they become old enough, they will spend as much time as possible to build their relationship with the NP if you lied to them.

Yes, you are upset, and yes, you are angry. And perhaps you have every right to be. But if you allow your anger to filter through your children, you couldn't drive them to your ex-spouse's home faster than if you dropped them off the NP's house yourself.

Be An Adult

I've seen so many "adults" become "Jerry Springer guest wannabes" that I am astounded by the level of idiocy to which some parents descend. The hardest part about dealing with an ex is to ACT LIKE AN ADULT. Childish antics, like not allowing your kids to speak to the ex, or yelling at the ex in front of the kids, or disparaging the ex in front of the kids, are all immature and inappropriate ways to handle yourself, especially in front of your children. You look foolish, even to them. 

Grow up! Be the adult your children expect you to be. Help your children make the transition of being a child with two parents to a child of divorce by acting friendly to your ex-spouse FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR CHILDREN. When you lose control in front of your children, you lose respect from them. 

When you decided to have children, you chose to raise them. Children raising children never works. Put aside your desire to destroy your ex-spouse. Your children don't need to see you rage at the other parent. 

And if you find yourself incapable of acting maturely in front of your children, ask yourself if what you are doing or saying is what's best for your children or if what you are doing or saying is what's best for you – at the expense of your children. Are you saying hurtful things about THEIR mom or dad because you think it makes you look better in their eyes. Open yours – it doesn't!

Keep Your Child – Not Your Anger – Uppermost in Your Mind

Pretend you're a figure you admire (Ghandi, Jesus, for example) – would the person you admire act the way you do? Say the things you say? Look into the eyes of your child after you bash the other parent. What do you see? Are you so filled with rage you didn't notice the pain in their eyes – that YOU caused? 

Some day your children will grow up. You had better decide now if you want them in your life when they become adults. Better to have your adult children visit you because they love you and want to spend time with you than to have them drag themselves to your home out of a sense of pressured obligation.

Do what's best for your child(ren). It's never too late. And if you have already damaged your relationship with your children because your behavior drove a wedge between you and them, now is the time to apologize. Now is the time to act like a mature adult.

Some children, when they grow up, decide to distance themselves from the parent who prevented them from having a relationship with the NP. When so much deceit builds year after year, the child no longer trusts the CP. It may take years, if ever, to earn back the trust your children lost. But if you truly love your children, never give up. And if you are in the throes of a divorce now, work proactively to prevent situations like the ones mentioned above from occurring.

1 comment:

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