NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS FOR DIVORCED PARENTS
Divorce is a difficult and painful process. Sometimes it seems that the only outlet or satisfaction left after a marriage
ends is to "talk stink" about the ex. We are hurting and we want to point the finger and find blame with our ex.
Unfortunately, our audience is frequently our children, the victims of the divorce, who are also hurting.
An 11-year-old boy did the drawing of a heart with arrows piercing it in one of my divorce groups for children. When
he described his drawing to the group, he said, "Every time my mother says something mean about my dad or my dad
says something mean about my mom, that arrow has to pass through me first."
As a parent, learning what not to say can be as important as what you do say. No matter what age a child is, that child
will always be half of each parent. No child wants to hear negative comments about a parent from the other parent.
Even if the child has plenty of reason to be disappointed in a parent, the child may feel compelled to defend the
parent. Children already are hurting by having their world shattered. Placing them in the middle only heightens the
Here are the 10 most important things to avoid saying in front of our children for the New Year.
1) Avoid blaming the divorce on your ex. Do not say that it was your mother or your father that did this to us. Do
not say it was his or her idea or that you didn't want it. Catch yourself from proclaiming if it weren't for him or her, we'd
still have our happy family.
2) When your child asks for something, do not tell him or her to ask the other parent. Do not say that the other
parent has taken all the money, left you broke, or that the other parent buys love.
3) When you are angry with your child, do not tell the child to go live with the other parent or that he or she is just
like that other parent.
4) Do not involve the child in conspiracies and secrets by saying don't tell your other parent about this.
5) Avoid saying things that break your child's trust, such as I know I promised but something has come up and I
6) Don't describe how difficult living with the other parent was. Don't tell them how screwed up the other parent is.
7) Do not punish your child by denying them access to the other parent because they have not finished chores
like cleaning their room.
8) Do not ask them to carry messages back to the other parent, especially about money and bills.
9) Do not encourage them to spy on the other parent. Do not ask them who the other parent is dating and what
they are doing.
10) Do not tell your child that someday you might get back together with the ex. This encourages a fantasy
reunion and the child may put his or her life on hold waiting for the reunion.
This list was derived in part from a list that I received at Kapiolani Women's and Children's Medical Center while
training to run divorce groups for children. This list contains the most common sins parents and relatives commit
during a divorce. Probably every parent has violated some of these during a divorce. It takes a conscientious effort
not to fall into these traps of slinging arrows at our ex-spouse.
Regaling our children with the shortcomings of their other parent does not gain us allies and make us a bigger person
in our children's eyes. As hard as it is to admit, wasn't it this the same person who we once chose above all others?
Villainizing our ex-spouse is not enhancing our present judgment.
Better that we say,
"Your father (or your mother) and I are not getting along. We fight often and feel better if we live apart. We are not
getting divorced because of anything that you did."
If pressed for details, it is OK to say that I am getting a divorce because,
"I don't approve of _______ (fill in the blank -- alcohol, drugs, abusive treatment, etc.) and will not be part of such
behavior. This behavior makes me feel -------."
You disapprove of that behavior in anyone, including their mother or father. You do not have to excuse poor
behavior, nor is it necessary to pronounce eternal judgment on someone else's soul. That is better left to higher
authorities. Children will make their own judgments in their own time. If you focus on the positives in your life and not
on past anger and hurts, you and your children will feel better during the coming year.
It takes a conscientious effort not to fall into these traps of slinging arrows at our ex-spouse. Regaling our children with
the shortcomings of their other parent does not gain us allies and make us a bigger person in our children's eyes. As
hard as it is to admit, wasn't it this same person whom we once chose above all others? Villainizing our ex-spouse is
not enhancing our present judgment.
How a Poorly Managed Divorce Might Affect a Child
There are sounds of joy--birds singing, children playing, people laughing. These are sounds that make us happy. It
does not cost more to have a happy child than a sad child. In fact, a happy child probably costs less both in financial
and emotional terms. Depressed people get sick more frequently. An unhappy, depressed child is stressful to have
around. It is in your best interest to have happy children--especially when you consider the alternative!
The old saying Misery Loves Company is often true. Most parents are miserable at some, if not all, points of a divorce.
Children mimic parents. When we are miserable, our children often end up acting out and making life even more
Some children feel that the more trouble they make, the happier their parents seem. Or, at least, since the parent now
has a new problem created by the child, the parent is not consumed in the divorce. If they make enough trouble, some
children feel that not only does it take their parents' minds off the divorce, it may even cause the parents to get back
Before her parents separated, Cathy, 14, had never been a problem child. After the separation, her mother became
removed from both her husband and the children. After several months of neglect by the mother, Cathy started
stealing jewelry and money from the families for whom she babysat. When her exploits were discovered, both parents
convened to discuss her behavior. At the meeting, each spouse only blamed the other and no plan of action to
change Cathy's behavior was initiated. However, her mother was now involved with the family again for the first time in
months. Cathy escalated her acting-out; soon she hung out at the ice skating rink with boys who were 18 and older.
They introduced her to marijuana and other drugs. By the time I received a call from her mother, her defiant behavior
had taken on a life of its own.
Any counselor can fill a book with horror stories about nice children creating havoc during a divorce. Very few of their
stories are happy. No one, neither the child nor the parents, ends up feeling better. Sometimes the acting out has
tragic consequences that end in death or injury. Drug overdoses, auto accidents and poisoning have all been tried by
children and teenagers during their parents' divorce.
When tragedy strikes, all parents wish that they had the opportunity to do things differently. That is never possible;
however, everyone can do things differently before a tragedy strikes.