Divorce can be tough. My own divorce process took almost three years and it was extremely hard trying to keep the kids out of the fray. It’s hard for most people to handle the break-up of relationships (I say “most,” but Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin seem to be doing okay with their divorce). The impact of divorce is right up there with life’s major stressors–like losing a job or a loved one. While divorce is tough on the adults, kids also suffer. A major part of their world has come crumbling down and now they too must recreate their lives–and they look to their parents to help them do this.
The kids who suffer the most because of divorce are the ones with parents who are in intense conflict with one another and act it out in inappropriate ways. These are the parents (or parent–often it’s one of the pair–not both) don’t know how to separate out their experience and needs from their kids’ experiences and needs. For example, it’s hard to put emotions aside when your ex has cheated on you. That’s normal, by the way. How could you not have feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, and the like? To make matters worse, you might have to see the cheating pair as a couple now, and know that that person is a part of your children’s life now as well. Keep in mind that your child(ren)’s experience of that person is different from yours. Maybe they like them, maybe they don’t. Maybe you feel threatened (they still don’t replace who you are). It would be easy to act from the part of you who’s hurt and act this out using your child. But, to them, their dad or mom is just their dad or mom–not a cheater. They’re already upset the marriage has blown up and their world has changed–they don’t need more reasons to be upset. Cheating is an adult issue–it should stay that way. If they have questions about it, steer them to the other parent.
Anyway, thinking about this further, I came up with a list of how parents can screw up their kids after divorce. It’s a non-exhaustive list (there’s more to add), but here’s a start. Let me know in the comments what you think or what you would add to the list.
How to screw up your kids after divorce:
- Put the other parent down in front of or within earshot of your child.
- Allow children the power of choosing when/if to visit.
- Don’t allow anything in your home that is a reminder of their other parent–pictures, gifts, etc.
- Make your home like a “candy store” so they’ll prefer to be at your home rather than the other parent’s. No rules, no structure, no repercussions–and plenty of material things to keep them bribed and distracted.
- Keep your child informed about what’s going on in court-related matters.
- Talk to them about child support–when it’s late, how little you get, what a schmuck your ex is for this.
- When visiting the other parent, make it so they feel left out that they aren’t with you–plan fun activities, have guests over they really like, etc.
- Tell them you’ll be right there if something should happen at the other parent’s home.
- Imply it isn’t safe at the other parent’s home. Or, the other parent isn’t a good parent. “Debrief” them when they get home about what went on over there.
- Reward/encourage their behavior if they’ve misbehaved with the other parent and commiserate with them about how bad the other parent is.
- Ask them to keep secrets from the other parent.
- Allow them to disrespect the other parent.
- Don’t involve the other parent in your children’s life. Don’t let them know when and about doctor’s appointments, illnesses, school issues, etc.
The behaviors listed above foster Parental Alienation (PA)–even one of these is enough to begin a campaign of hatred toward the other parent. Some kids can withstand and hold their own, but some can’t and fall to the pressure of pleasing the other parent. It’s also a distraction from healing–targeting anger at the other parent/ex-spouse only serves to prolong the intensity of emotions (and thoughts that accompany them). It doesn’t help with the grief process of healing from divorce. I can’t help but conclude that the cases of PA keep rising as the courts continue to make these situations worse, not better. Contentious and long, drawn-out court cases exacerbate PA. So too does the lack of repercussions to parents who demonstrate PA behaviors.
Surprisingly, a majority of parents during the first year after separating, will engage in alienating behaviors, but this does not lead to PA. When the conflict is intense and does not subside, this is a red flag for PA.
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Is your relationship with your significant other less than stellar? Is it boring? Are you on the fence about getting a divorce or are you now in the midst of one and need some guidance?
I can help. As a certified life coach and counselor with a focus on marriage and family therapy, I help individuals, couples, and families to heal.
My passion is to enrich people’s lives by helping them create extraordinary relationships. I am the author of Transforming Divorce, theTransforming Divorce Workbook, and co-author (with my husband Don Nenninger) ofThe Secr