The Top 5 Mistakes Divorced Parents Make
WebMD spoke with family and divorce expert M. Gary Neuman, who gives exes pointers on how to split up without emotionally destroying their kids.
3. Try to "get" your kid.
"Kids need to feel as if they are understood," Neuman says, and after a divorce their feelings may be in turmoil. "Listen to them. Don't tell them what to think. And it might be difficult, but never criticize your ex -- it's a criticism of your child, who, of course, is 50% of your ex-husband or wife. Respond specifically to what they are telling you. Say, 'It sounds like you are feeling sad/mad/upset about meeting your dad's new girlfriend, is that right?' As a parent, you don't have to have a solution. You just need to hear them.
"And don't editorialize. You can suggest your child write down his feelings and share them with your ex, but only if the child wants to do so. Stay trained on your child's feelings, not yours. Healing comes through a loving connection and from feeling understood."
4. Avoid the third degree.
"I tell parents to treat their child's weekend away with their ex-spouse as if the child has just visited an aunt or uncle," Neuman says. "Saying nothing will leave your child stressed, as if he must compartmentalize both worlds and tiptoe around this other experience. On the other hand, grilling the child puts him squarely in the middle, which is an impossible position emotionally. So ask your kid fun and general questions, which diffuses tension. And then let it go."
5. Repair the damage you've already done.
Many divorced parents reading these tips may recognize mistakes they've unintentionally made with their own kids. Is it ever too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty split? "No, children are remarkably forgiving," Neuman says, "at least until they reach their later teen years, when anger may be more cemented. If you've made mistakes, it's important to do the following:
- Apologize for them. Saying you're sorry goes a long way with your kids.
- Explain in detail exactly what you've done wrong, and then commit to changing your behavior from that moment on.
- Give your child a safe and specific signal -- for example, tell your child to raise his or her hand when you begin criticizing your ex -- which serves as a time-out for you, telling you in no uncertain terms you're doing it again and need to stop immediately."
Adapted from the cover story of WebMD the Magazine's February 2009 issue. Read the complete story