Most separated and divorced parents take great pains to protect their children’s emotional well-being. Parents try to keep their kids’ lives as normal as possible and constantly reassure them that they are loved — and that both parents will always be there for them, even if they’re no longer together.
Parents often don’t realize that their children are also being especially careful not to hurt either of their parents or to make them sad or angry (at their other parent or at them). Even young children see, hear and understand a lot more than their moms and dads often realize. They pick up on how their parents react to things they say and do as they move between their homes.
Among the things that children are most commonly afraid to share with their parents are these:
- They had fun during their time with their other parent or did something exciting.
- They want to talk about a time when their parents were still together — like a past family vacation.
- They don’t like their parent’s new girlfriend or boyfriend.
- They asked their other parent for help or advice with something.
- They don’t want both parents to come to an event because they’re afraid they’ll fight.
- They want to do something with their friends rather than spend their time with the parent.
Parents can help allay these fears by encouraging their children to feel free to talk with them about anything that’s bothering them without concern about how they’ll react. A conversation about unconditional love might be in order. This is particularly true for young children whose whole sense of security may have been upended by finding out that their parents don’t love each other anymore (or at least like they used to) and wonder if that means their mom or dad could stop loving them as well.
It’s also wise to be cognizant of just how much you show your reactions to things that anger or bother you about your ex to your children. Save your feelings and vent them to your therapist or a friend, but not to or in front of your child.
If you and your co-parent are having issues that are impacting your children, it might be a good idea to consider adding to or otherwise modifying your parenting plan to address them. Your family law attorney can be an excellent source of guidance.