In addition to the numerous daunting questions associated with getting a divorce, parents often worry about the harmful impact that a divorce will have on their children’s mental health and happiness. Attorney Van Smith and the other attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC know how to guide you in shielding your child from the effects of divorce, with their knowledge being based on years of first hand experience working alongside child psychologists. It is crucial that both you and your co-parent have a plan of action that will manage your interactions post-separation and divorce, to minimize or avoid the potentially harmful effects of divorce on children.
Children of Divorce Are More Likely to Develop Behavioral and Emotional Problems
Studies suggest that children of divorce may be more likely to develop behavioral and emotional problems than children who have parents who are happily married. An increased risk of substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and lower levels of academic achievement are some of the potential problems that children of divorce experience. Additionally, children of divorce may suffer problems since their concentration is distracted by what is going on at home instead of academics.
However, the attorneys at Smith Strong, PLC can help you develop a plan to facilitate a healthy divorce for everyone in the family – both you, your ex-spouse, and your children – and will help prevent your child from developing behavioral or emotional problems.
Parent’s Don’t Always Realize Their Actions are Harmful to Their Children’s Mental Health
Divorces are tough, and many involve harsh words, and forced communications. Oftentimes, parents don’t realize their actions may harm their children’s mental health. Parent’s sometimes fail to think of their children’s seeing eyes and listening ears grasping on to every conversation. Mundane actions that your spouse may not consider being harmful may actually have a harmful impact on your child. Conversations that parents have behind closed doors or via text message can be heard or read by a child eager to find out why their parents are not living together.
For example, grilling your child with intense questions about what happened during a visit with the other parent or for information, on the other parent’s life increase a child’s likelihood of developing problems. Interrogations, such as asking about your co-parent’s new love interest, if sustained can lead a child to have depressed and negative thoughts on the deterioration of their parent’s relationship and having to choose a side.
Another practice best avoided is having a child serve as a “messenger” between their parents. We’ve all seen a slapstick comedy routine where a couple, post-argument, decides to give each other the silent treatment, and asks someone else to go tell the other person what they just said. Using a child as a messenger could harm their mental health and lead to behavioral problems down the road.
Additionally, it is important to maintain your own mental health in check. Children learn by observing their parents. If they see multiple overnight guests in a month, this portrays an image of that being “okay” for them, “since my mom/dad does it.” Instead, it is crucial for each parent to seek help to deal with the stressful emotional toll that often accompanies custody disputes. Each parent should appropriately deal with their issues in a healthy manner to avoid setting a bad example for their child.
Avoid Confrontation in the Child’s Presence
Confrontation is inevitable in any relationship. Confrontation with your co-parent is okay, and even expected to a certain degree, but do your best to keep your child away from these confrontations. Schedule a time to talk with your co-parent when your child is at school, daycare, or a friend’s house. Do not vent to your child about your feelings towards their father or mother after an argument with them. Talk to a friend or therapist instead.
Manage Your Own Anger and Keep Your Mental Health in Check
It is important to manage your own anger and keep your mental health in check. Recognize and accept that the other parent is allowed to parent different from you and that’s okay. Additionally, accept that your child might want to spend time with their other parent, even if you are convinced they don’t want to. Do not let this anger you or make you act impulsively. Manage your anger, stress, and anxiety to set a positive example for your child.
Go Slowly When Introducing Your New Significant Other to Your Children
Finding someone new to spend time with is often looked forward to as the gleaming light at the end of the tunnel in divorce or custody action. Feeling the passion and love for someone new is welcomed. However, avoid being so eager in your excitement and enthusiasm to introduce your new significant other to your child too soon. Go slowly when introducing your new significant other to your child and be respectful and considerate of your child’s wants and needs in meeting this new person in your life. Emphasize the role the other parent continues to have with the child.
For more recommendations and a plan tailored specifically to your needs, Attorney Van Smith can help.
Special thanks to co-author and fellow researcher, Hayden-Anne Breedlove for her contribution with this article. Hayden-Anne Breedlove anticipates graduating from the University of Richmond School of Law in May of 2019.