When we talk about parenting, we are all aware that it is not an easy job. And when it comes to parenting during divorce or after parental divorce, the job of parenting can be even harder. It can be especially difficult if parents do not dare to find a common language of communication, which is quite common.
How to reduce the parental gap during divorce? How to make parental separation as painless as possible for the child / children?
The results of many social studies have previously indicated a number of negative consequences of parental separation on children – emotional, cognitive, academic, social, behavioral. Many have questioned whether parental divorce is so dangerous for a child that it is better to stay in a “bad” marriage because of the children? Today, research and clinical practice clearly indicate that for children, a “good divorce” is better than a “bad marriage”, i.e. that what harms children is precisely the parental conflict, and not the divorce itself. Next, put the burden of your personal unhappiness and dissatisfaction on your back by sending them the message that they are the only reason for the survival of the marital union. Therefore, we directly tell them to bear the responsibility that the parents stayed together regardless of disagreements, which, as research shows, is much more harmful than the divorce itself. By a healthy divorce and by looking at the best facts for raising children, parents show maturity and commitment and take responsibility for their lives and relationships. We often hear from mothers and fathers that they stayed married so that the children would have both mom and dad, or the whole family, to feel guilty from the very thought of divorce. That is why it is important for us to emphasize clearly and unequivocally – parental conflict, and especially witnessing domestic violence, then a sense of responsibility for the parents’ misfortune, are much more harmful for children than the act of separating parents would be.
Divorce is bad for children – isn’t it? This is at least a general assumption that comes from a simplified view of divorce. But like many topics in the social sciences, the answer is more complex: sometimes. For example, given that children react poorly to parental conflict, it is not surprising that in cases of high-conflict marriages, divorce can actually benefit the child. So while no major life decision should be taken lightly, it is overly simplistic to say that divorce always harms a child.
Although interruptions and divorces are relatively frequent, they do not always lead to significantly harmful psychological consequences, but one of the potentially difficult aspects in these situations is the constant need for cooperation and communication with the ex-spouse. Positive togetherness in the context of a committed romantic parental relationship can support a child’s mental health. Undermining an ex-partner with a child may increase the child’s likelihood of experiencing internalizing symptoms (think depression, anxiety, etc.), and conflict with an ex-partner may increase the child’s likelihood of symptoms (where parents often think he is acting / behaving) . If divorced parents can maintain a good relationship during the upbringing of a child, they have already taken the first step towards establishing a common ground and better opportunities for the child to accept divorce and better mental and social development of the child.
Divorce (or breakup) is painful, but you are resilient and will endure – not even your child will be broken. Regardless of your feelings towards your ex, you really care about your child and you would do anything for them. Research tells us that cooperation and support with a former parenting partner is beneficial, not only for children’s peace of mind, but also for their behavior, such as academic achievement and the development of social skills. Although conflict in front of your child is the most harmful type of unadjusted attachment, even undermining your ex behind your back can be detrimental to the child. To avoid this, try to separate the relational conflict from the parent’s decision / behavior. Find a common language (child welfare) with your ex-partner and avoid integrating battlefield topics (wounds from old relationships) into sham conversations.
To really create the best environment for your child, support your ex in parenting. It’s hard to do at first, but don’t just deal with yourself – research shows it’s getting easier over time. Work on your communication skills, make a compromise without hidden motives and consult a therapist if necessary.
Why is it important for parents to love their child more than they hate each other?
The adjustment of a child to a parent’s divorce mostly depends on what kind of relationship the parents maintain after the divorce. In the profession, we distinguish three basic forms of divorce:
(1) divorce as concluding a business, in which the parents do not have a close or friendly relationship, but agree about the child fairly and correctly;
(2) a friendly divorce, in which the parents truly remain friends, socialize and maintain a close relationship, and
(3) a highly conflicted divorce. There are numerous definitions of high-conflicted divorce, but in modern science, those that take into account the position of the child prevail. According to the vast majority of definitions, high-divorce is characterized by the fact that parents conflict fail to put their partner’s problems aside and build a parental relationship, but continue conflicts in which the child’s needs fall into the background. Sometimes it is easier to put partner emotions and partnership aside, for example when parents have been functioning more as friends than as partners for a long time before divorce, when both are ready to separate, when property and financial battles are not involved and there was no violence in their relationship. Sometimes it is harder to put partner emotions and partnership aside, however it is still the task of each parent individually. To say “our” child – automatically means that the child should be loved by parents more than they “hate” each other. It is important to understand that the fact that someone was a “bad husband” or a “bad wife” does not mean that he must be a “bad parent”. And if she is a “bad parent” by some standards, she is the only mother or the only father the child has. Except when that parent is objectively dangerous to the life, health and safety of the child, about which complex expert assessments of several sectors are made, it is in the best interest of the child that he has another parent in his life. Just as a child is genetically half mom, half father, so is a child emotionally. The child needs at least a part of the positive image of both parents, in order to be able to identify with them and believe that it is only good and valuable. Interestingly, a child whose parents behave abusively almost never blames the parents for it, but himself. With the message that something is wrong with him, that he is not worthy of love, the child goes on to life, which no parent really wants.
Children whose parents are in a high-conflict divorce often “dance” between them, learn to satisfy each parent individually, tell their mother what she wants to hear, and their father what he wants to hear. Even when parents do not explicitly say what they want from their children, they read nonverbal cues and become true professionals in assessing the condition and needs of their parents. They often lose themselves along the way. When you ask these children what they want, need and feel, they very often do not know how to authentically answer those questions. At a later age, they can also use the non-cooperation of their parents, for example, to go out until the morning so that neither mom nor dad find out, get twice the money for a school trip and the like. Various studies show that children from high-conflict parental divorces are 2-5 times more likely to have clinical behavioral and experiential difficulties than children whose parents are peacefully divorced. There is no age, gender or any other trait of a child that would make him immune to high parental conflict. While no parent wants their child to grow up that way, many parents give in when they are drawn into a whirlpool of high conflict with the other parent.
High Parental Conflict, Child Abuse, and Neglect
Research over the past 50 years has consistently shown that children in high-conflict parental divorces are often emotionally neglected because parents are preoccupied with their own financial, emotional, social, and other needs (Areen, 1970; Jones et al., 2012).
Children whose parents are in a long-term high-conflict divorce have the same difficulties as children who are victims of physical abuse or neglect (Kelly, 2000).
Some parents are in a state of shock, psychological crisis immediately after the divorce and do not know how to deal with the new circumstances. Some parents have had such a painful partnership that they cannot detach themselves from their own emotions, but want to actively work on themselves. They unknowingly harm the child, but as time goes on and with professional support they realize their mistakes and change their behavior.
Some parents do not realize their share of responsibility and are unwilling to change behavior in the best interests of the child. Some of them have problems from their own early experiences (lack of relationship with their parent / parents, abandonment by parents, neglect, abuse), then have an unresolved partnership with the other parent, may project their own fears (eg of losing the child’s love) and a sense of guilt (e.g., for a failed marriage) on the child and may seek to alienate their own self-esteem through alienation (for example, publicly showing that the other parent is to blame for the divorce and the bad relationship). In parents who alienate the child, personality disorders (or at least elements of personality disorders) are more common than in the general population. Most of these processes take place unconsciously, but this does not absolve the parent from the obligation to take responsibility.
Children of divorced parents almost always want one thing, and that is for their parents to reconcile and be a family again. Even when parental relationships have been significantly disrupted, even if there has been domestic violence, almost all children have a deep desire for the family to be together. If we say that this is not possible and try to come up with another wish, almost all children say that they want their parents to be friends, to talk nicely, to agree, not to quarrel and the like. When we confront parents with the fact that their child’s authentic desire is to be together again, they are no longer naturally advocating that the child’s desire should be fulfilled. And they are right. The child has the right to his wishes, he has the right to express and show them, but adults make the final decisions.
What is the best interest of the child?
Many talk about the best interests of the child – parents, psychologists, social workers, lawyers, special guardians, judges… However, the definitions of the best interests of the child are often different for different people. Sometimes it seems that parents hide behind the notion of the best interest of the child in order to realize their own interest, consciously or unconsciously. The best interests of the child include the exercise of the child’s rights and the fulfillment of the child’s needs. Thus, the parent term is the right of the child, the desire of the child and it takes a lot of information, cooperation, expertise and skills to be fulfilled.
In the context of parental divorce (unless the proximity of the parents is detrimental to the child’s health, life and safety), the best interests of the child are achieved through the availability of both parents, active encouragement by both parents to have a free relationship with the other parent. certain frameworks), protection of the child from developmentally inappropriate information (such as partnership or financial disagreements) and cooperation of parents (at least) on important aspects of the child’s life. Sometimes we come across cases when it takes a lot of effort to meet these conditions. For example, a child is involved as a witness in a domestic violence proceeding. In that case, the child will be informed about some details of the court dispute, but with professional help, the parent can inform the child in the way that is best for him. The problem can also be when one parent, for example, is barred from approaching the other parent and is expected to agree on important aspects of the child’s life such as schooling and health care. Then, it is also important to turn to a professional who can mediate in the communication of parents or together with them devise the best solution for the child, while respecting court rulings and that no parent feels threatened. In any case, there are solutions when the parents have developed the capacity and act motivated in the best interest of the child (according to the professional definition of the best interest of the child, and not according to personal assessment). Modern European and world guidelines for experts in this field recommend that the willingness of parents to involve the other parent in the upbringing and care of the child (within agreed or system-specific frameworks) is one of the main criteria for assessing parental capacity (eg Austin, Bow, Knoll and Ellens , 2016).
“Sometimes romantic passion turns into intense hatred and the need for revenge” (Michelle, 2002; p. 119).
Regardless of the fact that parents should have a focus on the needs of the child, it seems that often children come to the center of their conflicts. Although children have negative consequences for their mental health even from witnessing high parental conflict, the situation is much more difficult when parents try to make their children active actors in solving partner problems.
Alienation syndrome from parents during and after divorce as a result of conflict between partners
There is a fierce controversy in the general and professional public about the concept of child alienation. Some authors believe that alienation is a syndrome that should represent a special diagnostic category and there are serious indications that it could be found in new editions of DSM and MKB. Some authors recognize alienation, but do not consider it to be a special diagnosis because it is actually a form of emotional abuse. Some authors (mostly in the United States) argue that it is a violation of the attachment of a child with one parent under the influence of the other parent. Some authors also talk about manipulating children, “brainwashing” a child. Absolute consensus has not been reached on the conceptualization of the concept, but what the profession and science around the world unequivocally recognize are the behaviors of parents aimed at disrupting the relationship between a child and another parent, whether consciously or unconsciously, and that this violates children’s rights and risks emotional abuse. Whether we call these behaviors alienation, manipulation, or some third name is not so much important as it is important to recognize them and protect children from them.
The most common alienation strategies used by parents, according to Warshak, Childress, Baker, Woodall, Burnett:
– excessive pampering of the child (for example, allowing the child to eat a lot of sweets, stay awake longer, play games and watch movies that are not allowed with the other parent) ;
– omission of positive experiences with the other parent (for example, one parent is absent for a longer time due to work or illness, and the other parent completely ignores the positive experiences the child had with him, does not mention him, moves shared photos, toys bought by the parent );
– overemphasizing the failure of the other parent (for example, one parent is late for the child to train, and the other parent says that he “forgot him, left him on the road like a dog” and the like, takes the child to the competent service and reports neglect);
– excessive intrusion into the relationship between the child and the other parent (for example, calling the child on a mobile phone and sending messages most of the time while the child is with the other parent, imposing their own rules of conduct while the child is with the other parent, constant questioning about how to spend time eats, the clothes he wears, etc.);
– obstructing contacts between the child and the other parent (banning contacts or creating an excuse not to hold contacts such as training, check-ups, birthday parties, colds, learning to test just in time for socializing with the other parent);
– showing unpleasant emotions when a child has a relationship with another parent (for example showing sadness, anger, fear, concern, either by words or behavior, in some cases ignoring the child, complete emotional cooling);
– sending double messages to the child (for example, encouraging the child to meet the other parent, while crying or telling the child to “go free, I guess I will not die of worry” / “feel free to go, nothing terrible will happen to you”);
– negative comment of the other parent to the child (for example that the other parent is a bad person);
– false accusations of abuse (for example, encouraging a child to say that the other parent beat him, touched his intimate parts of the body, etc., when this is not true);
– passively allowing other family members or friends to alienate the child (for example, the parent does not alienate independently but allows his or her parents to commit the above behaviors);
– sharing inappropriate information with the child (for example about court proceedings, marital relations, violence that the child has not witnessed);
– reversal of child-parent roles (for example, asking a child to take care of a parent’s feelings, verbally or non-verbally);
– replacing the biological parent with a new partner (for example, asking for a new partner to be called a father or a new partner a mother);
– encouraging the child’s anger towards the other parent (for example, the child is angry because one parent took his mobile phone to study, and the other parent reinforces the child’s anger, does not allow him to forget the situation);
– restricting communication between the child and the other parent (for example, banning telephone calls for no real reason);
– denial of information about the child (for example about relocation, medical examinations);
– encouraging the child’s guilt if he has a good time with the other parent (for example, emphasizing that the other parent is a terrible person who just “bought” the child on a trip to the park);
– the inability to separate the image of oneself and the child (for example, telling the child that the other parent left “us” when he or she requested the divorce).
Finally: let’s not confuse children about what is a healthy relationship and what is not, what can lead to huge problems in their future personal life. So, if you don’t want to ruin a child’s psychological state, you should show him how partners respect each other and find a compromise. And don’t forget the golden rule – a happy parent means a happy child.