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Themes of Experience, 2

Children feel pulled by love and loyalty during pitched battles between their parents. And parents regularly compete for their loyalty. Consequently, a step in one direction means risking the displeasure of the other parent as well as a betrayal of one’s inner loyalties. Some children bravely maintain their neutrality and suffer the sense of isolation from any source of parenting. Others find that so unbearable that they take sides, losing the affection of one parent for the sake of having at least the other.

Children of divorcing parents are also angry. Wallerstein and Kelly found that many children have temper tantrums and start hitting. Older children are more verbal about it. The anger is aimed at both parents. Its expression is given license by the shabby example of parents who exhibit loudly and clearly that direct expression of intense anger is no longer unacceptable in that family. And it is motivated by the children’s perception that their parents’ choice to divorce is a selfish act that failed to consider the children’s needs or wishes.

All of these emotions considered, the greatest danger faced by a child during the divorce of his or her parents is not the unhappiness he or she feels, or the measure in which he or she feels it. It is instead that the disruption of the family will inhibit the child’s steady development in life toward becoming a whole and mature person. This may happen either as a result of slowing the child down or speeding the child up. It cannot be attributed directly to or equated with unhappiness, however.

Unhappiness is a normal response to divorce. It should make you want to comfort your child, but it shouldn’t cause you alarm. True developmental impairment is reflected in depression and regressive behavior that endures over a significant span of time. Perhaps the children most vulnerable to impairment are those between the ages of three and six. Psychologists have learned that it is during this stage of life a person undergoes his or her most significant psychosexual development. The need for the nurturing presence of both parents for a child in that age bracket is so strong that the prolonged absence of either one of them can have devastating effects.

No matter how angry we are at our spouse or our ex, we’ve got to put our children first. What is best for the kids? What do the kids need? How can I make this easier on my children? These are the things we must ask ourselves when dealing with our own emotions. A divorce coach or other licensed mental health professional can help teach communication skills and provide other tools that will help divorcing parents maintain a relationship that is conducive to the well-being of the children.

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