When Parents Divorce They Must Emotionally Support Their Children

Citation metadata

Author: William Mosier
Editor: Roman Espejo
Date: 2015
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: At Issue
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 1,311 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
Lexile Measure: 1030L

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 

Article Commentary

William Mosier, "During and After Divorce: Children Need the Emotional Support of Both Parents," Annals of Psychotherapy and Integrative Health, vol. 16, no. 3, Fall 2013, p. 82. Copyright © 2013 American Psychotherapy Association. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

William Mosier is a marriage and family therapist, professor of child development at Wright State University, and director of research at the Lynda A. Cohen Center for the Study of Child Development in Dayton, Ohio.

Children require the emotional support of both parents during and after a divorce, as it can have lasting impacts. While parents cannot make the realities of the situation painless, they can follow several guidelines to make it less traumatic. For instance, parents should resist talking with children about the divorce when emotions are volatile and reassure them that they are not responsible for it. Moreover, parents should not use children as pawns in power struggles and put pressure on them to adapt quickly to painful changes. Because it can erode children's self-confidence, parents should also help them feel loved and wanted through maintaining an open relationship and encouraging them to express their worries and concerns.

During and after divorce, children need the emotional support of both parents. When parents are going through a divorce, the stressfulness of the situation can be complicated. Both parents love their children and don't want them to suffer from the parent's decision to seek a divorce. However, in spite of parent commitment to protecting their children from emotional trauma that could result from parental divorce, far too often divorce can leave a lasting scar on children. This raises several questions:

  • How should the situation be handled to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children?
  • What can parents do to help their children cope with, what seems like, the death of their family?
  • How should parents tell the children about their decision to divorce?

A divorce or marital separation does not end one's responsibilities as a parent. Children need the affection and attention of both parents. As emotionally stressful as the situation is for the adults involved, the situation is even more stressful for the children. The way a parent expresses his or her feelings about the situation, as well as the way the parent behaves around the children while attempting to cope with the ordeal, will affect the way the children will feel, not only about the divorce, but also about themselves. The impact of the experience will tend to affect the children even into adulthood.

Parents must reassure children they are not responsible for the divorce.

Talking About the Divorce

Once parents have made the decision to divorce, there is nothing that will make the reality of divorce painless for the kids: however, there are guidelines that can help a parent handle this difficult situation in a manner that can be less traumatic for the children. Consider the following:

  • Parents should resist the impulse to talk with their children about the divorce at times when emotions are volatile. Parents especially should avoid telling them about the decision to seek a divorce when feeling angry. It is a topic of discussion that requires calm actions on the part of the parent. Any discussion of the divorce must be done in a way that reassures the children their parents' love for them will continue.
  • If at all possible children should receive the news from both parents together, not from each parent separately. This approach helps to reduce blame and to reassure the children that both parents love them. It can help the children to understand their parents are not getting a divorce from them but from each other.
  • Parents should keep the details of what led to their "break-up" fairly general. Kids will be curious, but parents do not owe children a detailed explanation as to why they have decided to divorce. Parents need to keep the ages of their children in mind when attempting to tell them what happened and why the decision was made. Too much detail only will cause more confusion for younger children.
  • Parents must reassure children they are not responsible for the divorce. Young children tend to blame themselves for everything that happens around them. They need kind words and caring gestures that will help them to feel safe, that they are still loved, and that the divorce was not their fault.
  • Each parent must accept responsibility for the decision to separate and divorce; don't pass the buck as this will tend to make the children more fearful the divorce is their fault.
  • If the decision is final, parents need to be honest. Parents should not indicate the decision might be reversible. Children should not be offered a false hope of reconciliation unless that is truly a possibility.
  • Parents need to let the children know how the divorce will impact their lives, including when they will see the parent who will no longer be living in the home.
  • Parents must be very careful to refrain from voicing criticism about the children's other parent. Expressing bitterness only will leave children with deep scars that cannot be easily erased, as the children grow older. Parents need to avoid involving the children in any unresolved problems they are having with the other parent. Children should never be used as pawns in the power struggles between their parents. Children should not be forced to take sides in the game: "Who is right, and who is wrong." This is not the children's divorce. It is a problem between the parents and should stay with the parents.
  • Parents should not put pressure on children to adjust quickly to the situation. Children need to be allowed time for adjustment to such a significantly painful change in their world.
  • Parents should avoid too many disruptions to their children's daily routines. Children need a sense of security that comes with established routines.
  • Parents must reinforce the attitude of unconditional love for their children. The adults in their lives need to make sure the children understand they are not being rejected or abandoned by their parents.
  • Parents must guard against their guilt leading to over-permissiveness. Children need persistently consistent guidance. They need and want to have clearly set limits. They need to know what is expected of them. Children feel more secure when clear limits are set and maintained, especially during times of uncomfortable change.

Children Need Love and Acceptance

Divorce usually means everyone loses. This is true for the children even more so than for the adults. The behavior a child observes in his or her parents has the strongest influence on the child's emotional adjustment to divorce.

Divorce can cause a child's self-confidence to erode. Therefore, it is important for both parents to help restore their children's self-confidence by helping the children feel wanted and loved. When parents maintain an open relationship with their children and the children feel loved and accepted, they will be able to more easily overcome the shock of marital separation and divorce and be able to re-focus on the uniqueness of the relationship they have with each parent.

Avoiding thinking of divorce as the death of a family is vital to helping children remain resilient after a divorce. Although divorce leaves a lasting impact on a family, it does not destroy it. Rather, divorce forces a restructuring of the family that, for better or worse, will change the dynamics of the family. The change will be irreversible; however, the role of a parent continues after divorce; fulfilling the parenting responsibilities just becomes more complicated.

Under the pressure of divorce, family relationships can become strained. Divorce is a major trauma in the life of a child. Parents can help their children through this trying time by encouraging them to openly express their worries and concerns. This will help to reassure the children their parents' love is absolute and unconditional.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010953207