Changes in the Parent-Child Relationship After Divorce

Mother kisses forehead of child who has serious expression and is wrapped in a towel after a bathWhen couples get married, they generally do so with the intention that the marriage will be for a lifetime, but the reality is divorce is a common experience. Year after year, many marriages end because of various reasons. When marriages crumble, it is important for couples to remember they still have a responsibility to themselves and any children the marriage produced.

Honoring that responsibility entails several different facets. First, it is imperative for parents to be aware of the red flags that indicate their children are not coping well with the split. Parents also must adjust to and be aware of changes to come in regards to their relationship with their children. In many cases, parents must create and adjust to new parenting roles.

Red Flags for Children

When children experience the divorce or separation of their parents, they may exhibit behaviors and emotions including, but not limited to, sadness; anger; confusion; feeling torn between both parents; guilt; and fear for the future. Some children may even struggle with academic performance. All of this is quite normal considering the child’s family, as they knew it, is drastically changing.

So how does one identify when these behaviors are problematic? Well, if a child is displaying extreme emotions (symptoms of depression or anxiety, for example) that are interfering with their ability to function academically or socially for an extended period of time, steps may need to be taken to address this. The same may be true for children who no longer want to participate in extracurricular activities, especially if they stop participation without reason or warning.

When children’s emotions and behaviors become unusual, out of character, or extreme, it’s advisable for parents to consult a family therapist for assistance.

Consistency Is Key

It’s important for parents to understand the impact of divorce on the entire family unit. Parents should develop a plan of action by working together or with a mediator, if needed, to prioritize creating as much consistency for children as possible. This could relate to their schedules and routines, vacations, school activities, etc.

Patience and understanding are critical since children are often not equipped with the skills to navigate major life changes. Out of consideration for their feelings, parents should consider limiting exposure to new romantic partners while the divorce is still fresh. Ideally, both parents should live as close to their children as possible in order to foster ongoing attachment and security.

Taking on New Parenting Roles

New parenting roles may include those of counselor and mediator. Some parents may have to embrace the role of counselor and listen to their children express emotions related to the divorce. Other parents may have to work as the family mediator and help foster a positive and seamless relationship between children and extended family members.

When children are involved, divorcing couples must remember ending the marriage does not mean ending the family. Parenting is for a lifetime.

Parents must remember to actively parent their children at all times; it is not sufficient to parent by guilt. Parenting by guilt means parents are indulgent and enforce few boundaries and consequences for bad behavior because they feel guilty about the divorce.

Parents should work together to display as much consistency as possible in rules between households and routines. It is not fair for one parent to become the “Disneyland” parent, meaning they see the child relatively infrequently and therefore typically engage in only fun activities, making the other parent seem strict or unfun by comparison. Both parents should participate in homework, extracurricular activities, academic meetings, and other events to show children a united front. In this spirit, any differences between parents should be kept in confidence and expressed out of view of the children.

Divorce is never easy—for anyone affected. But if parents work together to foster consistency and cooperation in the best interests of the children, the transition can be less painful. Parents who find it difficult to work together should consider enlisting the help of a family therapist or mediator.

When children are involved, divorcing couples must remember ending the marriage does not mean ending the family. Parenting is for a lifetime.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Mayi Dixon, LPC

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Karmen

    March 7th, 2017 at 10:36 AM

    I really think that my ex thinks that because he doesn’t live with the children anymore than that absolves him of any responsibility that he has to take care of them. I am not asking that he pay for everything but a little bit of help would be nice to have. I make enough money to take care of all of us and for him he thinks that this is all that they need. They really need some time with him more than anything else, and he fails to see that.

  • Mayi Dixon

    March 9th, 2017 at 12:22 PM

    Karmen, unfortunately this is a very common occurrence with divorce. We as parents have to remember that both parents are vital to the upbringing of children.

  • Rick.D.

    July 24th, 2018 at 3:24 AM

    What makes me mad is I paid for my kids to help raise them. Unfortunately the Legal System at that time enforced Child Support but wouldn’t enforce visitation! The Ex found her another Man and I was left totally out of the picture!

  • Amos

    July 28th, 2018 at 1:41 AM

    more then that, mine force the kids to call her new husband dad.
    What worse, when I got married with a young, beautiful, wonderful woman (we are now happily married 19 years) and had three new children, she kept dragging me to court for years. Once, I collected donation for a girl that had brain tumor so she can have an operation.
    I ended up in court to explain my activities and that I was not making money (my child support was never enough). It did cost my $5K for lawyer fee.
    That was the reason to leave the USA and go to my country. I could not let her affect my new children life.
    My children with her accuse me that I left them. Is there a way to explain them the situation? The answer is NO.
    Wake up America.
    My ex wife is a clinical psychologist, she is married to a psychiatric. Both of them are experts in child psychology.
    The outcome:
    They have two children together (not mine), one of them attempted suicide. He was kicked out of school. So the money they make advising other people thing they know nothing about, they pay to cure their kids with other psychiatric.
    Wake up America.
    America, you are not only losing your industry to other country, you are losing your soul.
    I would never advise anyone to raise children in America; my story is not unique. I know of so many similar stories.
    Should these two monsters should be allowed to raise children?????????? The USA law allow them.
    To complete the story.
    my three kids are excellent students, the older 18 years old finishing high school and college in computer science. he volater in hospital and consular in boy scout movement; yes he is only 18 years old. The other two kids follow him and I can not be more proud of them.
    Sorry, America!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    You are the responsible for the fact that my two older children did not get what the deserve – loving father.
    America wake up otherwise ………. I might not have a reason to visit you.

  • Jordan

    March 8th, 2017 at 3:30 AM

    Thank you for sharing this great thought or Inspirational post :)

  • Mayi Dixon

    March 9th, 2017 at 12:23 PM

    You are welcome Jordan, thank you for reading it.

  • Joseph

    March 9th, 2017 at 8:34 AM

    My ex wife holds it against me that I didn’t want to be married anymore and therefore she tries to get the kids to turn against me as well. I have a terrible relationship with all of them right now and most of it is because she either will not let me see them when I want to or she is filling their ears with a bunch of lies about me. We have tried mediation, nothing seems to get through to her. I don’t want to just be destined to having a distant relationship with the children but that is what it is looking like right now.

  • Mayi Dixon

    March 9th, 2017 at 12:25 PM

    Joseph, sorry to hear that you are not able to see your children as much as you would like. Perhaps, mediation with a psychotherapist may help, even a few virtual (online) sessions may be easier if it is difficult for the two you to see each other face to face. I wish you well and hope that things change for you.

  • Rocco

    March 9th, 2017 at 1:59 PM

    Since you promised to be married to her for better or worse, ’til death do you part, and then you decided you “didn’t want to be married any more” – of course she holds it against you. What were you expecting? Did you think ahead of time that everything was just going to continue along the way it was before, except you wouldn’t be married? Be careful what you ask for… you might get it.

  • Joseph

    March 11th, 2017 at 6:58 AM

    @ Rocco- I accepted much of the blame in the relationship and of course she has the right to be angry. But she should be angry with me and not take all of that out on the relationship that I am trying to cultivate with the children… but that is exactly how she is taking out her anger on me. I didn’t go into the marriage with the intention of it ending one day, but as I am guessing that you haven’t had to make a decision like this before, sometimes life offers twists and turns that you might not have ever expected. I get it that she is mad, I guess that I would be too. But we are both adults and should be able to resolve things like adults, not hold the kids hostage to our own hurt and feelings.

  • Eric

    May 30th, 2017 at 4:30 AM

    Sometimes life offer twists and turns that you might not have expected?

    Like what? The opportunity to betray your wife by leaving her for another? That you decided your “happiness” is more important than that of your wife and children’s? You are reaping what you’ve sown. You sowed SELFISHNESS and you are reaping it. You showed no empathy or compassion and that’s what you are getting back. You expect her to care about your feelings when you showed none for hers? Get over yourself. You are the agent of destruction here. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You chose this life for you, your wife and your family. You should be grateful for any grace and mercy you receive from her considering you showed her none! Don’t blame her for this.

  • Leslie

    November 21st, 2017 at 10:49 AM

    How do you know he left her for another? You do not know the problems they were facing already. And yes marriage is supposed to be for better or for worse but why keep going on with something that at the end will end up hurting everyone. His ex wife should just grow up and let the kids have a relationship with their father. At the end of the day she is also hurting her children not only him. If he is trying to be a good day than she should be happy because others would have just forgotten about their children.

  • greg

    December 29th, 2019 at 2:07 AM

    a friend of mine the daughter thought she was the problem of the divorce and feels that wants top operation may to hide from being the one that broke them up as my theory they have told her many times she wasn’t the cause of the brake up / i don’t if the ex has told her he might wanted a boy instead of a girl

  • Ryan F.

    February 10th, 2020 at 8:09 PM

    You said that mediation may be a way to offer consistency. Do you think that mediation is a first step or last step? I always found that a mediator may not take full context into account when arriving at decisions. Unfortunately, a lot of judgments are based on a mediators recommendation. Would you suggest a single mediation? Maybe multiple? Unofficial or just go through the court? I do honestly believe that a true collaborative, acting selflessly for the child, and removing emotion is an extremely difficult and arduous task. Do you think it is possible?

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