By Connie Hornyak
Children whose parents are going through a divorce often feel responsible for their parents’ unhappiness. They sometimes believe that they must have done something to cause the divorce. As one child put it, ”I wish I could go to a new family so my Mom and Dad could be happy again”.
Most children whose parents divorce find themselves torn in their loyalties. They want to love both parents (after all, they feel that they’re half of each one), but when parents say negative things about one another, or try to get the child to take sides, it makes the child uncomfortable and hyper vigilant. Some children believe that they can only prove their loyalty to each parent by saying they don’t want to be with the other parent.
Cell phones and computers have made it easy for children to stay in touch with one parent while living with another. In order to maintain their loyalty to both parents, they may delete text messages and E-mails from one parent while staying with the other. They live in constant fear of being caught and being seen as disloyal, simply for wanting to communicate with both of their parents.
Children understand their parents’ body language, tone of voice, and one-way telephone conversations better than adults might think. When parents argue, children often feel forgotten. They may be so overwhelmed that they become withdrawn, or they may act out in order to focus their parents’ attention on them.
Parents are sometimes unable to let go of old pain, and cannot recognize that their former spouses have changed since the divorce. Children know, however, and often wonder why one parent cannot see that the other has changed. Children live in the moment, and so it does not make sense to them that parents can hold onto old grudges against one another.
When parents put their own needs aside, and focus on the best interests of the child, it is much easier to make short-and long-term decisions, which affect their child. For example, most children want to have both parents attend their sporting events, music performances, and awards ceremonies. These are moments that stand out forever in a child’s memory, and should not be tarnished by parents’ arguing about which one of them should attend. While parents may be extremely uncomfortable being in one another’s company, it is critically important for them to set their own needs aside in order to meet their child’s needs.
Children of divorced parents need:
- Parents who can put their own needs aside and make their child’s needs a priority.
- To be able to share their thoughts and feelings, verbally and in writing, with all the people they love.
- To have all the people who are important to them attend their special events.
- To know that the divorce is not their fault.
In Collaborative Divorce, a child specialist works with the family to ensure that the needs of the children are adequately met. Children cannot hire their own lawyers or therapists; they depend completely on their parents to obtain the most effective resources for their care.
Connie Hornyak is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has served children and families in Orange County for over thirty years, specializing in helping children to heal when they have suffered a loss. She can be reached at (714) 785-3047 or at CHLCSW@pacbell.net.