Children and Emotional Considerations
WOW. What a huge topic this is. There is nothing dearer to your heart than your children. Many parents stay in a bad relationship because of concern for the welfare of the children. Here are some dilemmas facing parents:
- I want to get out of this marriage because it is bad for me, but should I stay in this unhappiness because it is better for them?
- How does my suffering in this marriage affect our children?
- Am I a better parent IN or OUT of this relationship?
- Will my children suffer financially if I leave? Will their lifestyle be affected?
Let’s first address the biggest concern most parents share: “I am staying in this bad marriage because I don’t want my child to suffer.” That is a noble sacrifice. But, is it a legitimate one?
That answer all depends on the circumstances of your marriage. In the vast majority of cases, where the parents have just grown apart, and no longer like each other, children may thrive in two separate households. Children are very intuitive. They sense and feel the tensions of their parents even without fighting and arguing. Raising children in a loveless household is harmful all by itself. Children deserve happy parents.
We do not suggest that splitting up the family unit is easy on children. It can be very difficult for them. Children resist change more than adults. Fortunately, they are also more resilient than us and recover quicker. A great deal depends on your attitude. The more positive you act, the more positive the message to your children. Just because the other parent acts up is no excuse for like behavior. Be the grown up.
It is a common assumption that both parents love their children and want what’s best for them. When that is true, and the concept is carried out, then children will cope with divorce.
In our legal experience, far too many parents are so caught up in their own needs and wants at this difficult time. They are incapable of seeing life through the eyes of their children. They cannot act in their children’s best interest. Some of the most model parents fall into this trap. Don’t be one of them.
We will spend some quality time talking about shared parenting and time-sharing schedules. Before we get there, we need to know our own actions that can cause more harm to children than the divorce or separation.
Here are common problems: We share them with you to help you develop your own awareness and insight.
How do you treat your spouse? With respect, or ridicule? With civility or contempt? Even if you THINK you are not conveying those negative emotions in front of your child, trust us, you are. And those emotions hurt your children far more than they hurt your spouse.
What do you say about your spouse to others? Even if you THINK your children are not listening, they probably are. An overheard negative conversation about the other parent can be devastating to a child.
Are you competing with your spouse for the children’s affections? It happens all the time without folks being aware. There is a built-in tendency to compete for their attention and affection. Subconsciously, are you hoping they love you more than the other parent?
Are you aware of your child’s feelings? When we get wrapped up in our own hurts and emotions, it can be a struggle to set them aside long enough to accurately see our children’s emotions.
Are you discussing the divorce with your child? There is a definite line between being honest about what is happening in your life, and theirs, and sharing adult details that no child needs to hear. Telling children “mom and dad are going to be living in two houses” is factual. Telling them it is happening because mom is a drunken slob with an affair with her co-worker is entirely different, and entirely wrong.
Are you still parenting your children? By that we mean are you still assuming the role of the parent and not the best friend and confidant? It’s hard to parent. They need boundaries now more than ever.
Are you being a victim? Openly displaying tears? Crying? Children swap roles and become the adult when they see a parent in pain. Don’t be that parent. You are only hurting your children.
Do you support the other parent? Actions you take to undermine the other parent will be felt painfully by children. They need both of you. Support their relationship with the other parent for their benefit.
Did your parents go through a divorce? Are you unconsciously repeating the bad behavior you witnessed as a child?
Speaking with a therapist before you separate can have positive consequences on the whole family. Get educated about how to best talk with your child. Each family is different, and each set of facts that lead to YOUR break up is unique. Someone trained in mental health and psychology can help you avoid many harmful pitfalls. Try to get the other parent to join you. If the other parent won’t join you, go on your own. Solving children’s issues in a therapeutic way is so much preferable to having some judge dictate.
Before you say you can’t afford therapeutic help, do the math:
- The hourly rate for a good family therapist generally ranges from $100 to $500, depending on the professional and the location. Insurance will often cover the cost.
- The hourly rate for a family lawyer will still be much higher and there is no insurance.
- If you have to go to a mediation to resolve your children issues, you will have the cost of your lawyer AND a share of the mediator’s cost.
- The dollars out of pocket are pale compared to the emotional cost of leaving judges to decide the fate of your children.
There are circumstances that warrant aggressive, court involved intervention. An example is where the child is at risk of harm with one parent (alcohol, drugs, and risky behavior). Another is when one parent just won’t share the children and refuses to cooperate with time sharing. If you fall into one of these situations,we suggest you RUN to a lawyer for help.
The bottom line: we have learned through many years of observation that when parents get along, children thrive. When parents don’t get along, children suffer. As parents, whether married or divorced, your children will reflect you. What would you like to see looking back at you from that mirror?