Children of Divorce: Parent’s Guide


When parents divorce they too often get so absorbed in the conflict, feelings, and tasks required to get through this difficult experience, they forget about their children’s emotional reaction to the breakup of the family. Don’t forget, your kids are going through the divorce as well. How?

These are five (5) major issues to pay attention to:

issue#1: The breakup of the marital relationship naturally creates certain worries for children. The biggest one is, will I lose daddy or mommy too? In their minds, a divorce means they will lose someone too. They don’t know that mommy and daddy can breakup and both of them can still have strong parental bonds with their kids.

issue#2: Since kids can’t really change what adults are doing, their only way of controlling anything in a divorce situation is to take personal responsibility themselves, in their own minds. Kid logic like, if I didn’t do this or that, my parents would have remained together, is very common. This kind of thinking places an unnecessary self-imposed burden on them and encourages self-blame and low self-esteem.

issue#3: Many children of divorce also feel responsible for getting their parents back together at some point in the future. In fact, it’s a kid’s way of trying to defend against painful feelings of loss. This particular self-imposed responsibility they can feel for a very long time after the divorce well into adulthood. It can also complicate their ability to accept someone new in their parents’ lives.

issue#4: It is also common for kids of divorce to feel bad about themselves because their parents broke up. Like, there is something wrong with me and the divorce is the consequence. Once again, low self-esteem can grow from this feeling of inadequacy or personal fault. Something like, I didn’t have an intact family therefore I am incomplete or damaged in some way.

issue#5: When issues such as the first four are not dealt with directly, communicated consciously with children, kids tend to form psychological identifications with the unresolved issues as a way to cope with them. This unfortunately sets the stage for an unconscious repetition of the problems in their adult love-lives.

This is one reason why it is so important to address the emotional experience of children going through a divorce situation. The more you pay attention to and address these issues the less likely your children will blindly repeat your love-life mistakes in their own lives.

Remember, the more civilized and cooperative you and your soon to be ex-spouse are, the easier it will be for your children to work through the difficulties that divorce creates in their psychological and emotional lives. Spend some time talking with them about what they are thinking and feeling while you are going through the divorce process.

And keep in mind, if you ask your kid(s) whether something is bothering them, and you either don’t get an answer, or the answer is no, that doesn’t me there is nothing bothering them. Look for signs, repeat the questions, and expect that sometimes the answers you’ll get are not in words.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan


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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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