A divorce is always a stressful event for the entire family. When it is a hostile divorce, meaning the parents will not talk to each other at all and fight over every little decision, it is especially stressful on the children. As a psychotherapist, who specializes in working with children caught in hostile divorces, I hear the children complain about their parents fighting and wishing it would stop.
These children feel like they are in the middle of a civil war. Often they feel they need to choose Mom’s side or Dad’s side. At times this is how their parents’ fighting makes them feel and sometimes parents do push their children to choose a side.
The parents will tell the children about what Dad did or Mom did in order to get them to pick a side. What parents often forget, is this is a choice a child cannot make. They love both their parents and want a relationship with both. This type of pressure on children creates depression, anxiety and children who act out at school as a way to cope with their stress.
Unfortunately, this pressure does not always end with the parents. Often grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins get involved. They start pressuring the kids about what side they should take. This creates even more stress for the children. When their grandparents are pressuring them, they start to doubt themselves. They start to feel like they are doing something wrong by not choosing a side.
This pressured is intensified because usually both parents’ families are pressuring the children. The children become overwhelmed, confused and angry very quickly. First, there is no where for them to escape the pressures of the divorce. Also every time they think they have a handle on the situation someone in the family is giving them new information or pressuring them to take a side.
When this occurs, I see children become less involved in the family and more involved with friends. Also their grades tend to go down and they start to get into trouble at school. This usually occurs because the child has come to the point where they do not care anymore. They are tired of hearing their parents fight and they are tired of getting pressured by their grandparents. They wish that someone would start to look at things from their point of view.
This is a very important point. When a family is going through a divorce the parents and extended family need to consider how the kids are feeling. Also they need to stop doing anything that makes the child feel like they have to take a side.
This means that parents do not discuss the divorce in front of the children. Also neither parent says anything negative about the other parent when their children are around. Finally, both parents tell their families not to discuss anything pertaining to the divorce when the children are around and they are not to say anything negative about the other parent. If the families cannot abide by these guidelines, then parents need to restrict visits to the grandparents. Furthermore, they can only see the grandparents when the parent is present so they can intervene, if the grandparents start saying negative things about Dad. You are not punishing the grandparents, you are protecting your children. Remember you can divorce your spouse, but you cannot change who your child’s mother is or father. You can also not change that they are related to both families.
In summary, a divorce is a difficult, sad experience for everyone. However, your children did not choose the divorce and are not getting divorced. So as their parent, you need to do whatever you can to minimize the stress and to ensure they are able to maintain a relationship with both parents and their parent’s families.
Dr. Michael Rubino has 20 years experience working with teenagers and children as a psychotherapist. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.rcs-ca.com or http://www.RubinoCounseling.com.