Most parents consider their child’s feelings when telling their children about divorce, but somewhere along the way - their children’s feelings can take a back seat. These parents don’t mean for it to happen, but it IS happening.
Here’s a story I heard from a child very recently. After a nasty divorce that left one of her parents starting over and looking for a place for a few months, this parent worked hard to save and got an apartment. When this child moved in, they were so excited to share the news with their other parent. This child explained that there was a little room off of the bedroom with a small door where things could be stored. This parent replied saying it seemed dangerous. Now there’s nothing actually dangerous about it other than the danger of slamming fingers in the tiny door (a danger every door holds and that I’ve felt the wrath of), but what happened was the anger and bitterness from the divorce took over and took control of the conversation instead of the love for this child. Both parents love this child, but they’ve let the divorce take over - something many divorced parents do - unconsciously.
This isn’t a conscious choice the parents are making, it’s a product of divorce. Parents need to take the control back and let the feelings towards their child take over rather than the feelings towards their ex.
The #1 way to prevent this from happening is to be engaged in positive communication with your children.
What does that mean? It means you follow the rules for divorce communication. It means you engage in the conversation with your children without letting your feelings towards your ex get in. It means that you are just as genuinely happy for them now when they tell you they had fun with their other parent as you were before you were divorced.
Remember in the movie Inside Out where we watched Joy run things in Riley’s brain? Riley was still a child and joy was and should have been the leader, but did you notice her parent’s brains? Anger had the center seat in Dad’s brain whereas Sadness was taking control in Mom’s. Life happens along the way and sometimes the switch is not conscious, but it happens.
The way you communicate to your children isn’t just an indication of what’s going on in your head, it’s what your children learn from.
It’s perfectly normal to feel anger, frustration, hatred, and bitterness towards your ex. The point of this post is to make sure that you’re aware that when you communicate to your children, they are seeing who has the center seat in your head.
Here’s a test for you: When was the last time your children came home and excitedly told you what they did with their other parent?
- What was your internal reaction?
- What was your external reaction?
- Now, what do you think your children saw and what did they learn from it?
I bring this up to make you aware of how communication can change with your children after a divorce. My hope is that it does nothing more than make you aware. If something needs to change, it's never too late!
I have one more story. It’s the story of a child who went to a park with one parent and ran to tell their other parent about all of the fun they had. Parent 2, like in the story above, also explained all the dangers at the park (slides that go too fast, running and falling, falling off of the monkey bars, etc.). Parent 2, after responding to their child’s happiness with a list of dangers at the park, took their child roller skating. That child excitedly told Parent 1 that they went roller staking and Parent 1 responded with genuine happiness asking all about it. Who do you think this child will open up to as time goes on? What do you think the child learned?
Communication matters. It’s easy to let the feelings from the divorce come out in many places. As soon as you become aware of it, you can work to ensure it doesn’t happen. Comment below with how you make sure you show your children genuine happiness when they’re happy - even when that happiness comes from the other parent.