Parenting Advice Column
|Subject: effects of marital separation
I am recently separated from my wife and my kids are not handling things very well (nor am I). I try to be strong and affectionate when I am with them because I do love them dearly. My question to you is, have you found within your experiences that children in this position cannot handle criticism well and flaunt you in regards to what you have taught them in the past?
Thanks so much for sending your question. You sound like a very caring father. It must be distressing to feel that guidance which you have given in the past is being disregarded now. While your love for your children has not diminished, your family situation has dramatically altered.
Marital separation, of course, affects the whole family, but it can be especially stressful for a child, who is forced by circumstances to accept a situation that is not of his own choosing. A forced and unwanted choice is always frustrating for any of us (adults as well), and it is a maxim in psychology that "frustration leads to aggression". Additionally, many children whose parents are separating or divorcing are in their pre-teen or teenage years, which can be a challenging time for many other reasons. Sometimes just keeping these considerations in mind can help us to understand a child's behavior during stressful experiences. It is during such times that a child most needs to hear that we understand, even when the situation itself cannot be changed. And it's this kind of understanding that can make all the difference in our relationships with them.
A key ingredient at this time is communication, which needs to include active listening, acceptance of feelings (both positive and negative) and undivided attention. Many families have found counseling to be very helpful. Others have benefited from weekly "family meetings", in which both positive and negative statements can be made safely.