If you’re separating or getting a divorce, you are probably going through, or have been through, an emotional gauntlet. If you have children with your soon-to-be ex, that may be all the more true. So why should your kids have it easy? If you’re unhappy, by George, they should be unhappy too, right?
Here are a handful of tips to make sure your children suffer as much as possible from your divorce:
1. Make your children choose between their parents.
Kids naturally have an emotional connection with both parents. This is good and healthy for them. So if you really want to cause them grief, put them in a bind where they can’t have both.
Make them feel guilty when they leave you to be with their other parent. Make it clear you will be sitting all by yourself doing nothing until they return. Even better, tell them explicitly they have to choose one or the other. This is guaranteed to make them miserable, torn between the two people who mean the most to them and unable to keep both.
A strong relationship with both parents is a good buffer against the trauma of the transition they’ll be going through; if you really want your kids to be depressed, angry, and generally unhappy, that’s something you’ll need to avoid.
2. Use your children as go-betweens.
This tactic puts them right in the middle of your troubles. Refuse to communicate with your former partner and use the children to relay messages—when to pick them up or drop them off, what their calendars are like, etc. (This way you can even blame them for the things you forgot to mention to your soon-to-be ex, like the big recital last Sunday.) Forcing them to carry nasty messages is even more effective, as it makes them feel like they are the ones causing their other parent pain. This can leave them with decades’ worth of guilt.
You can also use them as spies, interrogating them on what’s happening at their other parent’s house, whether the other parent is dating anyone, and other details that are none of your business. Turning children into weapons against the people they love is a proven way of causing them major distress.
3. Use your children as confidants.
Even seemingly minor issues can be good ammunition—like how their father never cleaned up after himself, or how mom’s nagging was just too much for you.
Since kids are not generally equipped to handle adult problems, especially ones of this magnitude, sharing the gory details of the split with them is a good way to overwhelm and disable them emotionally. Even seemingly minor issues can be good ammunition—like how their father never cleaned up after himself, or how mom’s nagging was just too much for you. (For kids who already think of their mom as a nag, a wink and a nod here is a great way to rope them into taking your side and putting down their mother.)
But bringing up really salacious details is more powerful—more personal, more embarrassing, and more demeaning. Tell them about mom’s infidelity or dad’s erectile dysfunction. Wiping out their respect for their other parent does a good number on their self-esteem, too.
4. Tell your children it’s their fault.
Since every child is likely to wonder at some point whether they caused, or at least contributed to, the divorce, it touches on a very raw nerve for you to confirm this worst fear.
Saying things like, “If only you kids had been better behaved …” will ensure a lifetime of self-esteem issues and guilt. You can ramp this up by implying that your former partner didn’t much like them anyway, so it wasn’t hard for the other parent to leave. In the other parent’s absence, this can’t be denied, so your kids may be likely to believe it. This can do significant damage to their relationship with the other parent (and see point No. 1 for the importance of such an outcome).
These are just a few of the ways you can really inflict a lot of emotional pain and suffering on your children while going through a divorce. As a therapist, I naturally thank you for providing me with more business. Of course, if you prefer to protect, support, and strengthen your children through this difficult time, well … maybe you ought to think about doing the opposite.
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