Kids are Not Confidants – Helping Children Cope with Divorce

The following post was submitted by Kathy Teeple, M.A.  Overburdening your children with every detail about your divorce process is not helping them.  Read “Kids are Not Confidants” to learn more about helping children cope with divorce.

Kids Are Not Confidants

By Kathy L. Teeple, M.A.

There’s an old phrase “misery loves company” and it’s true … when you’re miserable you want to share it with others.  I know when I’m feeling down the thing I crave the most is someone with whom I can whine and complain … I want someone to take my side, pat my hand and agree that things are awful.   And when my whining is justified it makes things better.

When you separate you are given the biggest ticket out there to unlimited whining, and it’s justified.  You can gather your friends and they will all agree that life is not fair, you deserve better, and, yes, your spouse is the biggest jerk in the world.  Friends are great when going through a separation and a divorce.  They lift your spirits, they give you encouragement, and they listen without judgment.  But your friends have their own lives and they are not always available at a moment’s notice.  Plus, as your separation drags on you simply don’t want to constantly call your friends and burden them with your misery.  So you turn to the next best thing … your children.  Oh, this is a bad idea on so many levels, but it is a common occurrence.

Kids are an easy target for complaints during separation and divorce.  They’re easily accessible and they’re often a captive audience.  Sometimes complaining to them happens quite by accident.  You are overwhelmed by the circumstances and you lash out.  Perhaps you’ve just spoken to your estranged spouse and need somewhere to unload your anger or frustration.  It’s so easy to turn to your child and say “Your mom/dad is such a jerk.  S/He’s refusing …”

Sometimes a parent will use the misguided idea of “truth” to justify his/her confidences to a child.  I’ve worked with parents who tell me that they have never lied to their child and won’t begin now.  While that’s a noble idea, it isn’t a necessarily a great idea in separation.  It is too easy to confide too much in a child and overwhelm them.  Additionally, the “truth” you are telling is based on your perception of the situation.  Your spouse has another perception entirely.  If both of you are confiding your perceptions of the “truth” the children can easily become confused.

While some parents confide in their children on an occasional/accidental basis, others do it in a calculated manner that is designed to sway the children to their “side.”  This is a dangerous practice.  Children view both parents as a source of security.  If one parent is constantly berating or degrading the other parent that undermines the child’s sense of security.  In the short term a child may side with one parent over the other, but over time the child may begin to resent the parent’s berating of the other parent.

Helping Children Cope With Divorce

Information can be a good thing, but children may feel overburdened with too much information about your separation and divorce.  Children naturally worry when their parents separate. If you are using your child as your sounding board you are adding to their worry.  Children need to know the basics about separation and divorce; they need to know they are loved and that while things may be different, they will be okay.  Children don’t need to know every detail of your separation.  They don’t need to know your every concern, and they certainly don’t need to know your fears for the future.

It is natural to want to share your pain and fears with others, but choose carefully.  Children don’t need to know the specifics of your separation; they don’t need to know “where the bodies are hidden.”  They need to know that they a loved by both parents.

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