Part 1 of this article reprint covered the first two things that divorcing couples need to know to help themselves during this often difficult and turbulent time. In Part 2, we explore issues about children and being clear about what you can and cannot control during this process.
Whether you divorce, separate or remain together, your children need to be your children. Parentification occurs when children are treated like and expected to behave like adults in relation to their parents and/or siblings. It is one of the most common forms of dysfunction that occurs when families reorganize due to divorce. Roles once filled by adults are vacant and children instinctively slip in to fill the gap. This should be guarded against vigilantly. It is beyond the scope of this article to detail the damage this sort of boundary violation and inappropriate role assignment causes to developing people. So, parents: anticipate that you will have needs, longings and empty spaces; trust that you will fill them, over time, with appropriate adults and activities. Seeking emotional support from appropriate resources will help protect against using children to fill adult emotional roles.
4. An offshoot of parentification
An offshoot of parentification is a subtle form of verbal abuse and boundary violation: exposing your children to too much information about your divorce, yourself, and your spouse. Depending upon their ages, children have often not fully distinguished their identities from that of their parents. Therefore, the child’s own value may feel assaulted when a parent is verbally attacked. Whenever you argue in front of your children and/or speak pejoratively about the other parent to or in front of your children, it is important to understand this as abusing their boundaries. Not only are you burdening them with information that will evoke strong, conflicted feelings, you are setting them up in an inappropriate role as your confidant or equal. Again, however your role with your spouse changes, your children’s roles need to remain stable. Be careful with your speech not because this will protect your spouse, but because it will protect your child. Children often endow messages from their parents with far more heft than the parents intend – so use special care and deliberation when speaking to and around children.
5. Reclaim your power by clarifying what is and is not in your control.
Determining what we have power over and relinquishing the rest frees us to use our resources. Divorcing couples often revisit things outside of their control – what the other party should be doing, should have done, shouldn’t have done, and so on. The choices and behaviors of other people are alwaysoutside our control.
Deciding who you want to be is always within your power (even during the turmoil of divorce). Each choice you make is an opportunity to build your self respect. Be aware that your choices affect the people you love and loved. You need not consider taking care of anything but this legacy in order to act according to your principles and highest self. This may be the most effective way to replace regret with peace and dignity, for you and yours.
It is possible to embrace the unwelcome experience of divorce in order to cultivate the person and parent you want to become.
(Reprinted with permission from the New Jersey Association of Professional Mediators)