It was a pleasure to discover Catharine Blake, Certified Divorce Coach and Child Psychotherapist, and an honor that she agreed to an interview. Her episode is posted this week on this website. https://judyweigle.podbean.com/e/effects-of-divorce-on-children-with-catharine-blake-cdc-psychotherapist/ There aren’t enough people in the divorce coaching arena who also specialize in child therapy. It’s a special skill and art to be able to work with children therapeutically. The reason why it’s important to understand children’s reactions to a divorce is because the way in which a divorce unfolds will dramatically affect children in their future relationships. Heaven knows that without divorce we can damage our children psychologically because raising children is the most difficult journey we can take; most people have no clue how to speak to children, how to connect with them and how to discipline them, guide them, and give them a healthy life.
One of the topics Catharine and I discussed was introducing new partners to your children, coupled with spending one-on-one time with your children without your new partner being a part of that time. Divorcing couples are in a lot of emotional pain. To be able to think outside of that pain enough to focus on the pain the children are going through is sometimes impossible. But parents have to realize that children are lost without a family framework in which to function. They have gone from a 2-parent household to two households with parents who are behaving differently than usual because of the divorce, and because parents are trying to figure out their new normal.
One of the best ways to introduce new partners into this now extended family is to introduce that special person to the other parent first. This demonstrates deference to the other biological parent, and prevents your child from being the one to tell the other parent that there is a significant other in the mix. It’s interesting to listen to people speak about the way in which they introduce girlfriends and boyfriends to their children. It’s uncomfortable and awkward for everyone. But going through this awkward introduction will have exponential rewards to you and your children, and provide honor and respect to the other parent who is eventually going to have to meet this person and feel comfortable that your child is in good hands with a new step-person. Introducing your significant other to your former spouse first also provides a strong foundation for your children in which to function as the family extends itself to a larger version of itself.
Alone-time: When your child tells you they need alone time with you, please take them seriously. They are saying that they are trying to figure out how to relate to you as a single parent and attach to you in a different way than when you were part of that nuclear family living under one roof. This is an evolution of readjustment that both you and your child are going through.
I had a client years ago who went from filing and securing a Legal Separation to filing a Divorce. Since I had familiarity with this dad when he came in to file or a divorce, I asked how his children were doing. He said, “Not well”. He explained that one of his boys wanted alone time with him, without his girlfriend around, on some of his visitation days. Dad couldn’t understand how important this request was, while he did understand that his son needed therapy. Dad looked straight at me and asked, “Isn’t my happiness important? Why can’t I have my girlfriend with me when I have my son?” Catharine explained that when this comes up in a parent-child relationship post separation, it doesn’t mean that a parent can’t or shouldn’t have a fulfilling relationship with someone else. It just means that on that parent’s time with his/her child, make the child the priority, not yourself. If your child wants to be alone with you, grant that request! Your child is expressing a need that they have, a need to be with you and attach to you differently than before. They don’t know how evolved this request is because it’s coming from their heart, but it is a hugely mature request. The day will come soon enough when the time available with your child will be greatly diminished. Please grant your child this request; there will be plenty of time to be with your new partner on days without your child.
I, on the other hand, said to this dad, “No, your happiness is second to your child’s. You chose to marry and have children. Then you chose to divorce. You upended your child’s life. Now deal with making it the best it can be in this new version of a family.” No blame for the divorce; it may be the smartest decision. It’s the way you support your child’s adjustment to the divorce that is priority. Sometimes parents choose not to hear their children, not to address their emotional needs, and don’t recognize that children have a voice in the reorganization of the family. Let them speak. Take them seriously. Don’t let their requests fall on deaf ears. Hear them; acknowledge them; and support them as they guide you to their healthy response to your divorce.