Parenting after divorce
3 critical mistakes parents must avoid
Divorce is difficult. Divorce is overwhelming. Divorce is among the most painful and challenging experiences many parents will encounter.
Studies consistently show that divorce tends to leave many parents with serious compromises in their parenting. Consistent parents become inconsistent. Decisions that used to be easy become hard. Emotions turn intense at the drop of a hat, and kids sometimes dance on eggshells around parents.
And children are clearly affected, especially when the divorce is handled poorly. The challenging child becomes unbearable. The studious child refuses to do her homework. The once cooperative siblings are ‘at it’ all the time. The teen now wants to be in your business all the time.
Add to that your once respectful, well-behaved pre-adolescent seems to change overnight and is now combative, oppositional and argumentative, leaving you at your wits end!
The solution is not to surrender to your emotions, but instead to find a path out of the deepening anger and pain.
3 biggest mistakes divorcing parents make
1. Obsessing on the shortcomings of the other parent
This is number one because so many divorcing parents do this. Many times, there are blunders being made ‘on the other side of the fence’, and ultimately, we can’t do anything about them. That’s why it is essential to correct this damaging error. The more we invest our energy and attention on things we can’t control, the more the depressed, angry and overwhelmed we become.
The energy invested rarely pays dividends. Why? Because seldom is the other parent eager to hear your opinions on things or motivated to change based on your wishes. But more importantly, every moment we spend focused ‘over there’ is a moment we surrender our peace and happiness, and also neglect our parenting growth.
The solution is to stop focusing on the other parent and turn your attention to everything you can do to be the best parent possible. That’s where you will get return for your emotional investment.
2. Trying to “secure” parent-child relationships with soft limits
This mistake is also quite common, and frequently divorcing parents believe that there is justification: “The divorce is tough enough….so I will go easy on him/her.”
This is dead wrong. Kids need structure and consistency, and every study of divorce that has looked at this issue finds that these children struggle more than those whose parents remained firm, clear and consistent.
It is easy to want to buy more, give in more often and become lax on bedtime or video games and the like. Of course, most children will push you on these. But their desires are not allies. In fact, that is often the case for most of us. The things we typically crave for immediate gratification are ultimately lacking in long-term value, so our children actually need us to say no. These limits teach them habits that will serve them long after the pain of the divorce has passed.
3. Bringing children into adult content about the divorce.
I often get asked, “Is it okay to answer adult-like questions with grown-up answers?”
No. It’s not okay to speak about adult issues. There are many bright, capable and quite precocious children who will want to engage you in such ‘mature’ conversations, but you must resist. While they may appear to have depth of insight, research suggests that their capacity to see things fully at an adult level is very limited, especially when it comes to understanding the complexity of relationships and where they go wrong.
More importantly, it is impossible for even the best-intentioned parent to keep their biases out of such discussions. Your ‘truth’ is inevitably loaded with biases that you can’t even hide, even if you want to!
The topics should never turn to adult level conversations, such as who is responsible for the divorce or why it happened (filling in adult details) or how mom/dad is being stupid/wrong/evil. Even comments about money, moral behavior or the other parents’ personal habits usually fall into adult perspectives and play a biasing role.
It’s not fair to your child and it hurts them in the long run. And, the allegiance gained from such conversations is not in your child’s best interest.
Do your best to correct these three errors, and you are on your way to getting back on track. Best of luck!
Dr. Randy Cale offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. For more information visit www.TerrificParenting.com.