Easing the Impact of Parental Divorce on Their Adolescents

After divorce, "remarry" as parents jointly dedicated to the children's welfare

Posted May 13, 2019

Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.
Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph. D.

(This article about the relationship between ex-partners after divorce is intended to apply to unhappy but non-abusive  marriages only.) 

So, a newly divorced single parent asked: "Why would I want to treat someone well who I wanted to divorce and am glad I did?"

The answer is, you probably wouldn’t, except if you have children. In this case, you must both share responsibility for helping them adjust to what, for them, is an unwelcome and challenging family change. 

As soon as you can, come to terms of emotional acceptance of whatever differences drove you apart, so you can let old grievances go. Do this partly for your own sake, but also for the sake of the children, who can have emotional struggles of their own.

After all, parental divorce is a very significant and painful event in the lives of children, particularly for adolescents who have more years of parental marriage to lose. At the least, they may have three emotional impacts to manage.

1. There can be grief over the loss of the unitary family.

2. There can be anger at the betrayal of the parental commitment to family.

3. There can be anxiety from their uncertainty over what is going to happen to family now. 

So, what is the best way to treat the other parent? Treat your ex-spouse as a valued ally upon whom you depend to work toward a common objective—the welfare of the children. To maintain and cultivate this alliance, treat him or her diplomatically by demonstrating acts of consideration that convey the value you place upon this relationship.

(If you are remarried, explain to your new partner how important it is to maintain a working alliance with your ex-spouse. Showing consideration for your ex-spouse is not a matter of romantic feelings for him or her; it is a matter of caring to maintain a well-working alliance with the other parent for the children.)

It may sound too old-fashioned and trivial to matter, but the quality of the divorced parent relationship has a lot to do with the courtesy each parent shows the other. "Courtesy" refers to specific acts that signify consideration. Successful parental alliances after divorce are maintained by a meticulous show of consideration, and they can deteriorate without it.

Subscribing to 10 Articles of Consideration

Obviously, the relationship between divorced parents does not always run smoothly, any more than the course of true love, which in this case ended in divorce. However, with effort and attention, there are some specific acts of courtesy that signify consideration and tend to support a strong working alliance between two divorced partners who are still committed to sharing childcare responsibility as parents.

To help start you thinking about what such acts might be, reflect on the 10 possible "Articles of Consideration" suggested below, and see if you are willing to sign them for the sake of allying with your ex-spouse, for your children's sake.

1. "I will be reliable." I will keep the arrangements I make with you and the children. You can count on my word.

2. "I will be responsible." I will honor my obligations to provide for the children. As agreed, I will provide my share of their support.

3. "I will be appreciative." I will let you know ways in which I see you doing good for the children. And I will thank you for being helpful to me.

4. "I will be respectful." I will always talk positively about you to the children. If I have a disagreement or concern, I will talk directly to you.

5. "I will be flexible." I will make an effort to modify childcare arrangements when you have conflicting commitments. I will try to be responsive to work with unexpected change.

6. "I will be tolerant." I will accept the increasing lifestyle differences between us. I will accept how the children live with us on somewhat different terms.

7. "I will be supportive." I will empathize when you are going through a hard time with the kids. I will care about the welfare of your relationship with the children.  

8. "I will be involved." I will problem-solve with you when the children have difficulty. I will work with you to help them.

9. "I will be responsive." I will be available to help cope with the children’s emergencies. I will be on call in times of crisis.

10. "I will be reasonable." I will talk through our inevitable differences in a calm and constructive manner. I will keep communicating until we work out a resolution that is acceptable to us both.

By subscribing to these articles of consideration, you model behavior that you encourage in return, and you strengthen the alliance with your ex-spouse, as he or she is encouraged to do with you.

Divorce a marriage for the adult's sake; but afterwards, jointly recommit to a working parental partnership with your ex for the sake of the kids. At worst, what you don't want is an adolescent complaining: "They get along worse now than when they were married. I feel caught in the middle of their resentments. It feels like they love to hate each other more than they love us kids!"

Much better for your adolescent to be able to say: "My parents may not have been able to get along in marriage, but they really pull together when it comes to their children."

Next week's entry: High School "Senioritis," Academic Letdown in the Final Year