LIVING: Stop fighting and start parenting to help children heal after divorce.
– The top three parenting skills that predict children’s overall happiness, health and success are:
1. Love and affection
2. Stress Management
3. Positive Relationship Modeling
These basic skills are essential for a child’s long-term psychological well-being. Without these life lessons, children are very likely to develop high conflict personalities later in life. (Epstein, Scientific American Mind, 2010). Children who are caught in their parent’s conflict don’t generally learn this valuable trio of lessons in their family relationships, leaving them at a distinct disadvantage, particularly following a divorce, compared to their peers living in less conflictual home environments.
Sure, we all love our children. But it’s hard for parents in conflict to give affection and be patient with their children when they’re upset. Similarly, when a parent is stressed out because they’re battling with a co-parent, it’s hard to teach children to manage their own stress.
Research indicates that children learn how to interact with others by watching how their parents interact. If children are caught in the middle of their parents’ war, not only do they learn to treat others with contempt and bitterness, but they expect to be treated the same way in their own relationships.
In a 25-year longitudinal study by Judith Wallerstein, entitled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, researchers found that children who experience persistent conflict following their parents’ separation generally experience long-term difficulties in their own interpersonal an intimate relationships in adulthood.
Additionally, Wallerstein found that children tend to blame themselves for the parental conflict, which negatively impacts their self-esteem.
The message for separating and divorcing parents today is clear: “Stop fighting and start parenting.”
Children who do not learn stress management and positive relationship skills from their parents are very likely to develop high conflict personalities such as borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. Experts continually find that high conflict custody cases reveal one or both parents have a personality disorder and/or substance abuse problem. The resulting likelihood of children in conflictual custody disputes developing either of these trait is astronomical.
That is, unless at least one parent decides to end the conflict in their home and provide a stable environment for the child.
The key to helping your child heal from your separation and divorce is for you to heal. Children watch their parents for emotional cues, and if they feel that one parent is particularly needy, they are very likely to become that parent’s caretaker, much like the child of an alcoholic who protects and safeguards their alcoholic parent. This type of unhealthy family dynamic sets our children up for difficult relationships of their own in the future.
If you want your children to have positive relationships in the future, you have to model it for them. If you and your co-parent don’t have a good relationship, it’s vital that you stop the conflict on your end and provide a positive environment for your child in your home.
This starts by making positive comments about your co-parent, no matter how small, to show some level of connection between your child’s two worlds. For example, the simple comment, “I like mustard on my hot dog, just like your Dad,” can go a long way to removing your child from the battle between homes.
No one is advocating that you tell your child that Mom is Mother of the Year, but positive comments will help reinforce that your child doesn’t have to choose sides between parents. Children never win in a battle between their parents. | iH
Family law attorney, author, and educator, Margaret Pickard serves as an Outsource Mediator and Parent Coordinator for the Las Vegas Family Courts. Recognized as 2011 Peacemaker of the Year and named among the 2014 Top 10 Family Law Attorneys in Nevada, she has also taught at numerous universities and is the author of The Unbroken Circle of Love and Proof-Positive Parenting: What Social Science Research Tells Us About Raising Responsible Kids.