Breaking up is hard to do, and it may be especially hard for kids. Kids of divorce can feel they've been hit the hardest by the end of their parents' relationship. But broken-up spouses can help stop the damage by managing their own behavior before the ink dries on the divorce papers. Professionals agree these are some of the most emotionally damaging mistakes for children that parents make when coping with divorce:
- Fighting around your children – even on the phone or in another room if they can hear you.
- Forcing your child to choose a side when there's a conflict in scheduling or another planning challenge.
- Failing to remind your children that none of this is in any way their fault. Kids tend to blame themselves for your problems unless you tell them differently.
- Forgetting to emphasize that Mom and Dad will always be their Mom and Dad and always continue to love them — even after the divorce.
- Sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex with your older kids. Their own anxiety and need for control causes them to be 'understanding' of what you're going through, but you need to be the parent. Save that for adult friends and therapists.
- Disrespecting their other parent — regardless how justified or tempting — because it creates confusion, guilt, sadness, insecurity and low self-esteem in your children.
- Alienating or keeping your children from having an ongoing loving relationship with their other parent (for your own selfish reasons!) Frequently they’ll come to resent you for this when they are grown!
- Using your child to gain information or to manipulate and influence your ex.
- Lying to your children in order to manipulate their attention or sympathy.
- Getting back at your ex by making decisions aimed at hurting them – even though your children will pay the emotional price (such as moving a great distance away, not inviting your ex to a graduation or other important occasion, etc.)
Is it ever too late for divorced parents to undo emotional fall-out from an unintentional mistake? No, children are remarkably forgiving, at least until they reach their later teen years. If you've made mistakes, it's important to apologize for them and explain in detail exactly what you've done wrong, and then commit to changing your behavior from that moment on.
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