Parenting is always complex. Parenting following a divorce can add many other layers of distraction and confusion to the mix. That makes it even more important for parents to be aware of how their children are responding to the divorce.
One common error parents make is that of misunderstanding the stage of development their children are at which can lead to unrealistic expectations. Too often parents will assume that their child possesses a better handle on their emotions and a deeper understanding of human nature than is really possible at their age. So when their child acts out or otherwise misbehaves, it’s easy to misconstrue their intentions.
Parents mistakenly see these small beings as little adults who bring adult reasoning and comprehension to daily circumstances. With that mindset, it’s easy to get disappointed when our child’s behavior doesn’t live up to our expectations.
When divorce enters the family dynamic, we often forget that our children are processing their feelings with limited skills and emotional awareness. We all know the complexities of divorce can become an enormous challenge for adults. Imagine the ramifications on youngsters or even teens!
Give your kids a break. How unfair (and unrealistic) is it to expect your children to fully understand what Mom and Dad are going through and then respond with compassion? Emotional maturity doesn’t fully develop until well into our twenties. Yet divorced parents frequently put the burden on their children to be empathetic, understanding and disciplined in their behavior when they themselves struggle to access those mature attributes themselves.
Parents can be especially misguided in their expectation about teens. By nature teenagers are very self-absorbed. They don’t yet have the full capacity to put others’ needs ahead of their own. In addition, most teens are not very future-focused, nor are they motivated by lectures about consequences. Part of the parenting process is to role model positive traits and to demonstrate the advantages of setting goals, planning ahead for the future, etc. Unrealistic parental expectations lead to needless conflicts with our teens which can easily result in a sense of confusion, insecurity, guilt or shame within their fragile psyches. Why get angry at your teen for not displaying adult maturity at a time when your own maturity may certainly be at question?
By understanding your children’s stages of emotional development as they grow, you are less likely to make the mistake of confiding information they can’t psychologically handle or asking them to play the role of mediator, therapist or personal spy. You’ll be more likely to have reasonable expectations for them and refrain from feeling disappointed when your child behaves as the child they still are! ###
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free articles, coaching services and valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, visit: http://www.childcentereddivorce.com.