The Top 5 Mistakes Divorced Parents Make

by Norris Law Group on November 22, 2013

The Top 5 Mistakes Divorced Parents MakeAuthor Lauren Paige Kennedy of WebMD interviewed M. Gary Neumann, LMHC, an expert in the area of divorce and how it may affect a family. Neumann suggests that there may be a list of the “Top 5 Mistakes Divorce Parents Make” as they continue to build their relationships with their children after a divorce:

Making the child the “messenger:” Neumann says that, “Too many parents attempt to communicate through their children, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation their own parents could not handle…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.”

If your ex tends to descend into anger in conversations with you, Neumann suggests that using email or recorded phone messages may be a better way for parents to communicate, so there can be no question about what is being said, and discussions can occur without a child witnessing them.

Making the child the “therapist:” M. Gary Neumann says, “Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their world upside down…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.”

Try to “get” your kid: According to Neumann, “Kids need to feel as if they are understood,” Neuman says, and after a divorce their feelings may be in turmoil. Listen to them. Don’t tell them what to think. And it might be difficult, but never criticize your ex — it’s a criticism of your child, who, of course, is 50% of your ex-husband or wife…[y]ou can suggest your child write down his feelings and share them with your ex, but only if the child wants to do so. Stay trained on your child’s feelings, not yours. Healing comes through a loving connection and from feeling understood.”

Avoid the third degree: Neumann has a simple suggestion of how to ask a child about a recent visit to your ex’s home or family: “…ask your kid fun and general questions, which diffuses tension.  And then let it go.” Not asking any questions at all or “pumping” the child for information may put undue stress on the child.

Repair the damage you’ve already done: If your relationship with your child has been contentious during or after a divorce and you feel that you may be responsible in some way, Neumann encourages parents to simply apologize to their children, saying that “…children are remarkably forgiving.” An apology may revolve around a commitment to change these behaviors in the future as well. Neumann proposes that you ask your child(ren) to give you a “signal” if you start criticizing your ex, such as a raised hand, to let you know that your words are contributing to an uncomfortable environment.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of divorce. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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