13 Things Kids Want Parents to Know

13 Things Kids Want Parents to Know

By Isolina Ricci, PhD

  1. We need to know you love us, will protect us and won’t leave
  2. Help us get organized for going back and forth. Be patient
  3. Listen to our questions and opinions even if you don’t agree.
  4. Accept that we need a lot of time to adjust, even when we don’t show it.
  5. Keep your conflicts and dislike of each other out of sight and earshot.
  6. Keep us out of the middle of your problems. We are just kids.
  7. Don’t ask us to spy, pass messages or hear you put down the other parent.
  8. Give us a chance to talk with kids who are also going through this.
  9. Help us express our feelings and learn how to manage them.
  10. Give us space and time to grieve the loss of our old life at our pace.
  11. Confide in people your own age. We are not your substitute spouse.
  12. Tell us we aren’t at fault for your problems. We can’t fix them either.
  13. Show us it’s OK to love and want to be with both of you

Children and Divorce

“When you’re a little kid, you don’t know what’s going on”

“When they fight, I go to my room and cover my ears. Why do they have to do that? They tell me and my sister not to fight”.

“When my parents get into it, I play my music……loud ”

“I think it’s my fault when they yell. “

“I want things to be like they used to be. My little brother comes into my room. He gets so scared…….me too.

“ I want them to know how I feel but they might feel bad or get angry with me”.

“ I feel lonely and bad inside”

“I’m stuck in the middle…it doesn’t feel good…”

These are some comments I’ve heard from children of divorcing parents over many years. It’s heartbreaking.   They love both parents, who are part of them, and share their parents’ pain. Children may be confused by what they see and hear. They feel disappointed or upset with their parents’ negative behavior. Typically, they won’t, or can’t, articulate their upset to their parents for fear of upsetting them. Divorcing parents  struggle to hold things together during a very trying time. Because they can be preoccupied, many parents are not aware of what their children are experiencing.

Divorce is a multifaceted and draining experience.  It requires many  transitions for the entire family.  If you are considering it, or in the midst of it, you already know that. There may be a number of major transitions in your life. You may need to move, change your child’s school or get a job, even if you have been out of the workforce for a long time.  Living on your own may mean having to take on tasks that your partner/spouse took care of.  Entertainment can be impacted as well, including few extracurricular activities and vacations, dining out less and fewer indulgences for all. There may be shifts in how you relate to in-laws or how they relate to you.  Sometimes ‘couple’ friends choose one partner and withdraw from the other, which can also affect children.

If your spouse is involved with a new partner, there will be a period of acclimation for all. Even though your children may like the new person, there are often loyalty issues to their bio parent. Much of children’s feelings depend on how their parents feel and handle the situation.   “If I like Mary, will mom feel bad or be upset with me?” “If David plays ball with me, how will dad feel”? In a blended family situation there will be new and different family rituals and rules to be absorbed by children…the time [and how] you eat dinner, rules of behavior, holidays and vacations to name just a few situations that require adaptation on every one’s part. If your partner’s or spouse’s new partner (or yours) has children, additional layers of adaptation need to be considered and managed.

Children don’t cause divorce but they do have to live with its consequences. Confusion, sadness, anger, guilt and feeling lost and powerless are some of the feelings expressed by children living through divorce and its aftermath. Parents should protect their children from having to do the hardest thing of all – choose between them. One way to protect them is to minimize or eliminate the negative and angry aspects of the divorce experience. If parents don’t create two sides, children don’t feel conflicted about having to take a side. It’s important for them to feel safe and be able to hold on to cherished family memories as the family transforms.

Single or shared parenting is a new and challenging experience, for parents and children. If your spouse/partner relocates farther away, you may find yourself with most of the parenting responsibilities.  You long for your children when they are with the other parent.   Your children may be missing one parent much of the time, especially initially. If you live near the other parent, your children’s needs, schedules and desires will be best served by flexibility on the part of both parents. There are so many ‘ifs’…   cooperative co-parenting is crucial!

One of the benefits of collaborative divorce is that stressful transitions can be eased.   The level of divorce related tension is largely determined by how you and your spouse/partner navigate the divorce experience. When you work together, with dignity and respect, everyone feels more comfortable – family members, including in-laws, other couples and friends in your sphere but, most important, your children. As you and your spouse/partner make decisions together, with the assistance of experienced and understanding professionals, in a safe environment, your joint efforts to put your children first will generate priceless rewards.

The child specialist is a licensed professional who has expertise in working with children, adolescents, adults, family systems and divorce. S/he is knowledgeable about the emotional and cognitive development of children and can provide answers to your questions and guidance, as needed. Child specialists are experienced in gathering information and sharing recommendations with parents that are specific to each child’s personality and needs. Having been trained in mediation and collaborative divorce, in addition to fulfilling the  requisites of their clinical professional licenses, they are well qualified to help you create a Parenting Plan, which covers all aspects of your children’s needs following the dissolution of a break-up or divorce.

The child specialist is a member of the collaborative divorce team who first meets with both parents to gather background information on the children’s personalities, predilections and possible problems.   He/she will want to know what the children already know about the divorce and how the parents have dealt with, or plan to deal with, the situation. S/he can advise you on how to tell the children about the change in your family and how to prepare them to meet with the child specialist.   Parents often seek guidance on the best way to inform their children, about separation, and/or divorce.   The child specialist’s role is to understand what is especially important and meaningful to each child and share that information with parents.   S/he educates parents about the impact of divorce and family transition on their particular children, given their ages, personalities and established relationships with each parent. Working with both parents, the child specialist tailors the Parenting Plan to each family’s specific needs. Cooperative co-parenting, at all times, is basic to insuring continuity and consistency.

The children’s contact with the child specialist is often brief and focused. They are seen individually and/or together, as appropriate, in a gentle and friendly manner. They are helped to understand that they are their parents’ priority and their input is important to their parents although it is their parents’ responsibility to make decisions.  The child specialist can also be available, if child related issues arise, following divorce.

After working with parents and children during the collaborative divorce process, I have been so happy to hear more different comments from children:

“I got punished a lot so thought it was my fault that mommy and daddy were getting divorce. Now I know it wasn’t my fault, just something between them. I don’t know what – they said it was grown-up stuff”.

“They used to fight but now they talk more – even so, they still don’t want to live together.”

“They said Santa will know and come to both houses!”

“We’re still a family but don’t live together any more, that’s all.”

“ I think they are both happier and it’s easier ,“

Ah, music to my ears!

Kids and Divorce…They Are Never Too Old to Protect

For most couples seeking a divorce or a dissolution of their relationship, children are the primary concern and rightly so. We fall in love, partner or marry, expand the family and then, all too often, problems develop and the end of a partnership or divorce follows. It is the choice of parents and the responsibility of parents to ‘protect’ all children from the fallout of the dissolution of a relationship or divorce and subsequent changes in their lives. As parents, you agonize over custody and parenting time, vacation and holiday schedules, camp, activities etc. Discussions and papers abound, in media, on how to plan for younger children and divorce but often fail to address the impact of divorce on older teen-agers, young adults and, even adult children with their own children. It’s so important for parents to be mindful of the needs, concerns and feelings of that population too. As long as we have parents, we are still children, no matter our age in years.

Teen-agers, especially those over sixteen, are often ambivalent about home. They have one foot out the door, preferring to be with their peers, thinking about being more independent, their romances, learning to drive, contemplating or preparing for college or work and being away from home with no parent to tell them when to sleep, study or set curfews.  But home is also that safe place they have known for all of their years. Parents often complain about their teens’ thinking they know it all while still exhibiting childish behaviors. There can be a lot of testing limits.

Learning about parents separating and/or divorcing can shake teens’ emotional foundation [what they’ve always known or thought] and lead to feelings of loss of control. They have more opinions than younger children and may take to blaming one or both parents, especially if they think, or are told, that one parent caused the break-up.   They may feel that they have to be in charge, particularly with the parent they feel has been hurt and is not managing well.

It’s important to allow teens to express their feelings, including disappointment and anger. You need to keep the communication door wide open so teens don’t resort to acting out their feelings, with alcohol, drugs, sex, dropping school work and other self-destructive behaviors. Listening to their anger, etc. doesn’t mean that you don’t maintain many of your boundaries and restrictions.  Don’t drop your boundaries because you feel guilty or bad for them. They need to see that life does go on. Teens are especially vulnerable and being able to get away with anything can be just as unsettling as having too many limits.  Cooperative co-parenting is still so important.  When your children know that you keep each other in the loop, they are less likely to try to manipulate.  The royal “we” works beautifully. ” We’ll  speak and give you an answer tomorrow.”

Many parents believe that their emancipated offspring are completely launched, often with families of their own and, therefore, not affected by their parents’ marital dissolution. Wrong!  Once children leave the nest, they are still affected by the breakup of their family unit.  I have heard: “I’ve never seen a normal relationship,” “I’ll probably make the same mistake,” “I’ll need to take care of myself because I don’t trust anyone now” and “Why are they doing this to us now?”   Older children worry about their parents, how they will each manage, financially, emotionally, etc., especially the parent who says they did not want the divorce.  Adult children feel they need to be protective of that parent and angry with the other…another good reason for parents to be vague about such details.

Divorcing parents need to protect all their children from ‘adult information’, even when those children are parents themselves. They deserve not be placed in the middle or be   a confidant to either parent. That’s what friends are for!  Adult children who become parental confidants are at risk of becoming less secure about the future of their own relationship or marriage. Also, they may need to deal with their children’s feelings and reactions to their grandparents coming apart, particularly if they are close to them and… their own children worrying if that will happen to them..

Adult children have to alter their ways maintaining contact with both parents, more so if parents no longer live near each other. How, if possible, to split or alternate holidays and other visits? Some families are still able to share holidays, grandchildren’s birthdays, graduations  together. Concerns can arise, with older parents. who are divorcing at increasing rates, about how to take care of them as they age and are living alone.  Adult children may also have reactions to a parent’s new love interest, especially if that is presented during or soon after a divorce.

When divorcing, be aware that your coupled or married children are still vulnerable. Here are some guidelines:

  • Agree with your partner/spouse to keep personal information confidential.
  • Tell your child[ren] calmly and peacefully, together, setting the tone for “We are coming apart but are not enemies”.
  • Never ask, or hint, that they need to take sides.
  • Never speak negatively about their other parent or his/her new partner.
  • Have a good support system [friends, family] and let your child[ren] know that.Be accepting and flexible with their having to divide visits and holidays.
  • Reach out, when possible, to include the other parent in family celebrations, to demonstrate civility and respect and not have to have your children celebrate twice or miss one parent on special occasions.

It’s about ‘how you ‘do divorce that determines much of how your children, young, teen-age or adult children will fare. The work is not easy but the rewards are so well worth it!