How Divorce Affects Children & Teens: Parents Need Realistic Expectations!
By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Parenting is always complex. Parenting following a divorce can add many other layers of distraction and confusion to the mix. That makes it even more important for parents to be aware of how their children are responding to the divorce.
Misunderstanding Your Child’s Intentions
One common error parents make is misunderstanding the stage of development their children are at which can lead to unrealistic expectations. Too often parents will assume that their child has a realistic handle on their emotions. They also believe the child has a deeper understanding of human nature than is really possible at their age. So when their child acts out, expresses anger or otherwise misbehaves, many parents misconstrue their intentions.
Parents don’t fully grasp the fear and insecurity that divorce brings up in children. They mistakenly see these young beings as little adults who bring adult reasoning and comprehension to life experiences.
With that mindset, it’s easy to get disappointed when your child’s behavior doesn’t live up to your expectations. Or when they lash out at you for turning their lives upside down.
When divorce enters the family dynamic we often forget that our children are processing their feelings with limited skills and emotional awareness. We all know that divorce can become an enormous challenge for adults. Imagine the ramifications on youngsters – as well as for teens!
Give Your Kids a Break
How unfair (and unrealistic) is it to expect your children to fully understand what Mom and Dad are going through — and then respond with compassion?
Emotional maturity doesn’t fully develop until well into our twenties. Yet divorced parents frequently put the burden on their children to be empathic, understanding and disciplined in their behavior when parents themselves struggle with accessing that level of maturity.
Misunderstanding Our Teens
Parents are often especially misguided in their expectation about teens. By nature, teenagers are very self-absorbed. They don’t yet have the full capacity to put others’ needs ahead of their own. In addition, most teens are not very future focused … nor are they motivated by lectures about consequences.
Part of the parenting process is to role model positive behavior and to demonstrate the advantages of setting goals, planning ahead for the future, etc. Unrealistic parental expectations can lead to needless conflict with our teens. Losing the support from their parents can easily result in a sense of confusion, insecurity, guilt or shame within their fragile psyches.
Why get angry at your teen for not displaying adult maturity at a time when your own maturity may certainly be at question?
By understanding your children’s stages of emotional development as they grow, you are less likely to make the common mistakes parents make when coping with divorce:
- Confiding adult information your kids can’t psychologically handle
- Expecting kids to play the role of your mediator, therapist, or parent
- Asking your child to take sides and reject their other parent
- Turning your kids into your personal messenger or spy
As a parent, make sure you have reasonable expectations for your children. Don’t be disappointed when your child behaves as the child they still are!
For information about how divorce affects children at different ages, how to skillfully communicate with your former spouse after divorce, successful co-parenting strategies and more – check out my digital guidebook: Parenting Beyond Divorce – Making Life Better For Your & Your Children. Learn more at: www.childcentereddivorce.com/parenting-divorce/
* * *
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She is also author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free articles, Coaching services and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.
© Rosalind Sedacca All rights reserved.