Let’s be honest: It’s a rare divorced or separated couple who can get along smoothly. Yeah, Bruce and Demi seem to do it, but they’re celebrities, and celebrities have a way of making everything look easier. Breaking up, particularly when you have kids, is one of the most trying periods a person could go through in life. In my private practice, I have watched men and women deal with the complexities of children and divorce, and see just how painful the experience can be. One of the greatest concerns that I have as therapist concerning this process is how the process affects the kids.
Parents: Please keep your children out of the conflict between the two of you as much as possible. Children don’t have the life experience and thick skin to draw from when faced with tough situations, so they will either internalize or externalize all their negative feelings. Though you, as parents, must deal with a lot of negative feelings yourselves, you can be good parents by protecting your children from the emotional nitty-gritty.
One of the most consistent behavior patterns that separating moms and dads tend to show after the separation is to vent their feelings about each other to their children. Dad might mutter under his breath, “she doesn’t care,” while Mom might express her frustration, “he spoils you because he has the money and I don’t.”
Many Moms and Dads have got this understanding down –this is like Parenting 101 for them, all over again. For others, however, they can get so overwhelmed by their own emotions that stop to think about how venting to their children impacts them. The problem is that using your children as targets for venting or using your children as therapists is exploitative – you use them as objects or pawns that are there to support you. The cardinal rule in parenting, however, is that parents’ sole purpose is to support and protect their children – not the other way around. Yes, this line changes a bit when the children become adults, but the children should always be left out of the negative emotions induced by their parents’ separation or divorce.