As previously mentioned in one of my blog articles, GUILT is a terrible feeling and motivator.
YES, I said motivator. I see many of my clients trying to compensate for their guilt by buying their children. These parents really have good intentions and think that they are compensating for their children’s distress and pain over the separation or divorce. The truth however, is that they are trying to alleviate their own guilt. I have to admit that I myself was guilty of doing so way back in the day at the early stages of the divorce. I didn’t have the understanding and clarity as to how this could impact my daughter at the time.
While these children surely enjoy the special attention, gifts and new found liberties, it only instills a sense of self-righteousness and entitlement in them, making them think and feel that rules no longer apply to them. Yes, your children are going through a hard time, and the separation and divorce is having an impact on them, but it can and will be overcome with the right help and support. Changing rules and overcompensating will only lead to selfish, self-centered children who will get out of control and develop issues that can last a lifetime.
My advice is for you to continue parenting “AS IF” you are still married or in a committed relationship with your partner/spouse. Children thrive and perform best when they have a routine and are disciplined. Continue to parent the same way you used to. Same rules, routines, limits, chores, responsibilities and expectations. Don’t start giving them extra toys and favors. If you want to get them something think to yourself “is this (toy – treat) something I am getting because I want to make myself feel better about how guilty I feel over the divorce, or because my child truly deserves this treat now and I would have done this if I would be married as well”. If you see your child upset about the divorce or separation, take the time to sit down and talk with them. Listen to them, acknowledge their pain and empathize with them. Tell them how much you both love them and that sometimes adults need to part ways, but that it doesn’t change the love you BOTH have for them. Help them open up and express their pain and distress over the divorce. Teaching your children to express their emotions is the best gift you can give them.
Children will often pick up the cues and start taking advantage and act up during stressful times. Do not let them get away with it. Discipline them like you would if you would be married. If your ex-spouse doesn’t cooperate and becomes lenient don’t follow the same path. It’s better to have one parent that disciples that none at all. Kids need at least one parent who will teach them right from wrong, set limits, and won’t spoil them with gifts and treats.
If your child starts using the manipulation card by making you feel guilty saying “but, Daddy lets me do this?”, or “Daddy just bought me this and you never get me anything”, the last thing you want to do is fall for it. You also don’t want to attack the other parent for spoiling your child, but rather focus on yourself and utilize appropriate parenting skills.
Think back to when you were married, I am sure your children here and there tried to pit you against the other parent. It is what kids do when they want to get their way. Now that you are separated or divorced, don’t fall prey to these tricks. Remember to stand your ground. Eventually your child will learn that each parent has their own set of rules and adapt. It is important that you remain firm so that they will learn that you cannot be swayed. In time you will see a great deal of improvement in their behavior. Over time, your child will also learn to respect the parent that implements rules, routines, limits and expectations as this provides for a more stable and predictable environment that encourages healthy development.
From time to time it is natural and normal for your child to object. Don’t let that intimidate you or make you doubt your parenting style. Just because your child protests, it doesn’t mean that their demand is right, reasonable or acceptable. Think of it this way. If it’s something you wouldn’t have allowed when your family was one unit, you shouldn’t allow it now either. You have to accept that you can only control what you do and what goes on in your home while your child/ren is with you. You have no control over what the other parent does or doesn’t do. Focus on your parenting style and yours ONLY!
Sometimes you will feel that maybe your child is acting up and test the limits because they are hurting. Try and remind yourself how often they did it when you were still married. Children love to test their boundaries and will do so as long as you allow them to. If you can communicate with the other parent and think he/she will cooperate, then set mutually acceptable rules, routines, limits and expectations to manage misbehavior. If the other parent cannot agree, then you must treat the behavior as an issue for your house and in your house only. Remember you can only control what you do.
Please note there are exceptions and if your child is acting out in unusual ways that concern you please do reach out to a professional.
After a while your child/ren will get used to the rules and adjust. It is best you focus on your household only, and avoid questioning the child about what goes on in the other parent’s home. Focus on enjoying your time with your children and your parenting.