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Health & Parenting

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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.
By Lauren Paige Kennedy
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Jennifer Shu, MD

Breaking up is hard to do, and it may be especially hard for kids. Kids of divorce can feel they've been hit the hardest by the end of their parents' relationship. Some are asked to broker peace between warring exes, even as they are grieving the loss of a parent who has abruptly moved out. Others must deal with parents who suddenly can't cope with everyday tasks, like making dinner or helping with homework.

Many children carry the battle scars of divorce well into adulthood. But broken-up spouses can help stop the damage by managing their own behavior before the ink dries on the divorce papers. Family and divorce expert M. Gary Neuman, LMHC, gives exes pointers on how to split up without emotionally destroying their kids long term.

1. Don't make your child the messenger ...

"Too many parents attempt to communicate through their children," Neuman says, "which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation their own parents could not handle. Email is an excellent tool nowadays to communicate with your ex-spouse. It allows you to specifically discuss the practicalities of raising your child without detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds. It also provides a recorded message, admissible into court, so parents tend to be more careful when using it.

"If you want or need to speak with your ex over the phone or in person, be focused and stay on task, and most important, don't swallow the bait if he or she descends into anger. Simply say, 'I appreciate your feelings, but I am here to discuss our child's school assignment.' Take the high road. Your child's emotional health depends on it."

2. ... or your therapist.

"Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their world upside down," Neuman says. "Don't fall into the trap of sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex with your older kids. Their own anxiety and need for control causes them to be 'understanding' of what you're going through, but you need to be the parent. Get outside help for yourself, get therapy if necessary, and maintain those boundaries. Making your child your cohort is wrong and does them damage."

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