For the past three years, many children suffered from the anxiety-producing effects of the invisible COVID-19 virus. But many children are also suffering from the anxiety-producing effects of the invisible “virus” of parental conflict related to divorce, custody evaluations, destructive parental emotions and the world of litigation.
When there is a high degree of conflict between parents for extended periods, children remain on shaky ground. It is not the divorce itself that is ultimately damaging to children. Rather it is the ongoing conflict and the instability the conflict causes that affect children negatively. Children who are always on this “shaky ground” tend to feel insecure and can take that insecurity into their adulthood.
In all of my cases, over 25 years of practice, the children and what is best for them have always been the focus of my work.
I have the opportunity to interview children during child interviews related to Court Mediations, Child Custody Evaluations, Reunification and as a Collaborative Child Specialist. As they talk to me, they usually will have tears in their eyes.
During interviews with children, they will tell me things such as:
- Please, Mom and Dad, stop the madness.
- I want my mom and dad to get back together.
- I know my parents are hurt and upset, but so am I.
- I don’t want to have to choose sides – it’s unfair to be in the middle.
- I am so worried and scared all of the time. I am not doing well in school now.
- I feel like I am responsible for the divorce.
The children are the wisest ones in all of this. In summary, the children are saying to their parents they want the arguing and fighting to stop.
What I also often hear is children’s desire to have their own lives remain as unchanged as possible: “We want a full life of fun, good schools, sports and activities. We need you both to co-parent well and be flexible. Please stop telling us how much you dislike the other parent or what they are doing wrong and keep us out of the middle. Don’t pressure us with loyalty conflicts and please understand where we are developmentally. We love you both.”
Our job is to prepare our children to launch into adult life in a healthy way. We will be gone someday and our children will have to figure out how to raise their families based on what they saw us do as their parents.
A vaccine and effective treatment options were eventually discovered for COVID-19. There is also a “vaccine” and effective treatment remedies available for the “virus” related to the divorce conflict and its heavy burden on the children in the family: Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative Divorce is a better process in which a divorcing couple, together with trained professionals, work as a team to resolve disputes respectfully without going to court.
Whatever path you choose, here are nine ways to help children cope with the upset of divorce:
- Encourage honesty.
- Help them put their feelings into words.
- Legitimize their feelings.
- Offer support.
- Keep yourself healthy.
- Keep the details in check.
- Get help from a trusted therapist, clergy member or counselor.
- Let the children be free to love both parents.
- Ensure consistency and routine in the children’s lives.
Additional treatment options to consider include:
- Individual therapy for a parent.
- Co-parenting Counseling for both parents together.
- Individual therapy for the children.
- Family therapy.
- Also seek out helpful resources available online for all ages.
Timothy Bennett Rood, LMFT practices in the Bay Area and the Sacramento Area. Find him at http://www.timrood.com/