Parenting after divorce
By Randy Cale, PH.D
As our children age, our techniques of parenting must mature with them. Add in the stress of a divorce and the challenges of co-parenting and it’s enough to use up all the resources in our parenting toolbox!
Have you found yourself saying the same things over and over, but now louder and louder? Do you give in more easily in hopes of getting a better child, but find the behavior worsens? Has your child become less respectful, less motivated or less cooperative? Does the divorce add a confusing element that makes you ‘soft’ on your parenting, when you used to be firm?
If so, you are not alone. Studies consistently show that divorce tends to leave many parents with painful compromises in their parenting. Consistent parents become inconsistent. Decisions that used to be easy become hard. And children change as well. The challenging child has become unbearable. The studious child refuses to do her homework. The once cooperative siblings are at it all the time. The teen now wants to be in your business all the time.
Add to that the respectful, well-behaved pre-adolescent who changes overnight and is now combative, oppositional and argumentative leaving you at your wit’s end!
Well, not all is lost. There are significant choices that will help you in both the short and long term.
Before discussing this section, let’s be clear: This divorce stuff is not easy. It’s hard. In fact, it’s harder than most imagine it to be, regardless of the situation.
Having said that, here are the mistakes that parents can quickly correct to get things back on track:
1. Blaming everything on the other parent.
This is number one because so many parents do this. And, it’s understandable. Many times, there are errors being made ‘on the other side of the fence’ and most often we can’t do anything about it. And this is why it’s such an important mistake to come to grips with. The more we invest our energy and attention on things we can’t control, the more we get seduced into believing that all of those struggles are actually of value when they are really not. Rarely is the other parent eager to hear your opinions on things, or motivated to change based on your wishes.
But more importantly, every moment we spend focused ‘over there’ is a moment we surrender our peace and happiness, and also neglect our parenting growth.
Few divorcing parents like to hear this, as there is such interest in getting hooked on discussions of what the other parent needs to do because this doesn’t require the ‘complainer’ to accept responsibility for fully stepping up to be the best possible parent.
2. Winning allegiance by softening limits and expectations.
This mistake is also quite common, and frequently, divorcing parents believe that there is justification: “The divorce is tough enough so I will go easy on him/her.”
This is dead wrong. Kids need structure and consistency, and every study of divorce that has looked at this issue finds that these children struggle more than children who have parents who remain firm, clear and consistent.
It is easy to want to buy more, give in more often and get lax on bedtime or video games and the like. Of course, most children will push you for this. But their desires are not allies. In fact, that is often the case for most of us. The things we typically crave for immediate gratification are ultimately lacking in long-term value, so our children actually need us to say no. The limits teach them habits that will serve them long after the pain of the divorce has passed.
3. Talking to children about ‘grown-up’ issues.
I often get asked, “It’s really okay to treat some kids like they are adults because they talk with me about the divorce in adult ways. Right?”
Wrong. Dead wrong. Yes, your bright, capable pre-adolescent or teen can discuss topics with very adult language, but it doesn’t mean their understanding or judgment is at your level. More importantly, it is impossible for even the best intentioned parent to keep their biases out of such discussions.
The topics should never turn to adult-level conversations, such as who is responsible for the divorce, why the divorce happened, how mom/dad is being stupid/wrong/evil. Even comments about money, moral behavior or the other parents’ personal habits usually fall into adult perspectives and play a biasing role.
It’s not fair to your child. And, the allegiance gained from such conversations is not in your child’s best long-term interest. Children cannot be brought into adult-level dialogue about the divorce or it will ultimately harm them. Of course, they will often want to join you there, but it doesn’t mean that it’s good for them.
Correct these three errors, and you are on your way to getting back on track!
Dr. Randy Cale is a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist. Visit www.TerrificParenting.com for free parenting information and an email newsletter.