I see many adults still caught in the pincer of their parent’s divorce. Therapists have for years been pushing the idea that kids are more important than hashing and rehashing your bad marriage or divorce. Yet, that memo doesn’t always seem to be read.
If you’ve been down that path yourself, it may surprise you to learn that high conflict divorce isn’t the norm. Most divorces go reasonably well, particularly if both parents seek better lives and well-matched loves after the break up. Still, for many families the effects of divorce gone awry are devastating and even in optimal situations, it can be especially hard for teens
According to University of Utah researcher Nicholas H. Wolfinger, coming from a divorced family left you twice as likely to end up divorced. Yet, a well-executed divorce can be the perfect opportunity to change the pattern experienced in the family of origin, prevent teens from coming out on the wrong side of the statistics.
Early intervention is often the key to a successful split. Parents should seek therapy themselves and encourage that for their kids. Most divorces include a “dumper” and “dumpee” and the dynamic for each is different as far as parenting goes. The dumper is typically at risk for underestimating the impact of his or her decision on the kids. In their grief and pain, dumpees risk leaking inappropriate information and using the kids for emotional support. A trained therapist can redirect each party to avoid those trappings.
A second key is mediation, collaborative law, and co-parenting consultation. They’re not only cheaper, but they give parties greater self-direction over custody and property settlement. By offering parents a place to work out differences peacefully, children are less likely to witness disagreement and acrimony.
By far the greatest danger in divorce is also the hardest to curb—the unrelenting power of narcissism. Some divorcing parties become enraptured with their own rightness, blaming their ex- for all that goes wrong while hurrying on to second marriages, which end in much the same way. Narcissists see no problem in teaching their kids just how awful their ex (read: the kids other parent) is. That usually just infuriates the kids who feel forced to take sides. Because they’re blind to their own foolishness, narcissists also blame that fury on the ex-.
Nowhere is the adage “to thin own self be true” more applicable than when managing a divorce for the best interests of the kids. Monitoring and curbing your own weaknesses will keep your kids safer and leave you in a more respectable position as a parent.
Every experience, bad or good, is a teachable moment. So use your divorce to teach kids how one finds the wrong mate and more importantly, how one finds the right one. Teach teens how to break up gracefully. When talking with your kids say things like, “Although your father/mother is still a great person, we aren’t the best match.” Explain how issues like budgeting, decision-making, religion, work habits, and morals tend to divide couples when they disagree. When your children enter the dating world themselves, promote the idea that they shouldn’t “settle” without implying that you did so yourself.
If your child realizes the divorce was based on differing views, it becomes less important to pick sides. Besides, most kids, especially younger ones, aren’t likely to care which party is responsible. Such explanations also help kids feel that they are not to blame for the divorce.
Rather than a terminal illness, divorce can become more like an broken leg or a fracture aided with a cast and crutch. If you’re willing to swallow your pride and approach it as a collaborative effort, your children will experience less pain. That may seem overly optimistic, particularly if you’re in the throes of a divorce right now, but I can assure you I’ve seen many a marriage end in twenty-six years of practice and most of them came out okay with a little time and a large dose of wisdom.
To learn more, listen to this podcast of Up to Date with Steve Kraske.