All too often in the divorce process, couples become so focused on dividing marital assets, locating funds, and getting back at the spouse that has wronged them that their focus on the most critical part of their marriage gets overlooked. Children, the one part of the couple’s marriage that should be the central focus, get lost. Most people have heard that children are resilient, they bounce back quickly, and they adapt to change well. While all of those can be true, nothing in the equation of divorce is the fault of a child, and parents should remember that children have feelings too.
The decisions of separating parents can and often do have lasting effects on the children. Unintended consequences arise when one parent pits a child against the other parent. Carrying excessive anger and hatred toward a former spouse causes the parties to be unable to share in the joy and happiness with or for their children. Children may be engaged in extracurricular activities outside of the home. Children want and need to share these experiences, accomplishments, and failures with both of their parents. Parents that are unable to share a living space rob their children of the ability to share these things. This instability often forces the children to make hard decisions on how and when to share experiences with separated parents. The conflict is especially real for younger children during sporting events. Which parent do I celebrate with from the field first? Which parent do I look to for encouragement if I make a mistake? What if the parents are sitting in different areas of the event?
Children experience more stress in environments where the parents are unable to work together to create a fun, exciting, enriching, and stable environment. Children today are under much more pressure than their parents were to build their “résumés” before entering high school. The pressure to have the best college application or get into their first choice of school has grown at an alarming rate recently. The extra burdens placed on children to decide which parent experiences their accomplishments or failures can be devastating to a child.
Stop and think how it feels, as the child of a separated family, to have to decide which parent learns of a recent accomplishment, who gets to hear the news of an engagement, which parent finds out they will be a grandparent. This stress can exist from early childhood into early adulthood. Parents being unable to get along for the sake of their children causes long term issues that can carry over into becoming a grandparent.
During the early stages of the separation and divorce process, parents should make every effort to create a comfortable, loving, and safe environment for the children. Working together to assure the children that they can share accomplishments, failures, and experiences, even though they are no longer an intact family, can create a positive environment for the children. By no means do the parents have to be close friends, but maintaining a respectful and civil relationship when sharing time with the children can create an environment where children can thrive and succeed with the support of both parents.