The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents

by James Lehman, MSW
The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents

An important note from James:

Divorce is a very complex occurrence that takes place within the family. This article will not attempt to cover all of the many nuances and intricacies involved in dealing with children who are experiencing a divorce. There are therapists who deal specifically with divorces as well as many books written on the effects of divorce on children and on parents. Many towns have programs committed to working with children of divorced families, which can be very effective in helping kids come to terms with what’s going on. All of these options should be considered. I hope this article will offer some useful ideas, but I want to stress the fact that it is not meant as a substitute for a broader understanding of divorce and its effect on parents and children.

Being structured and clear after a divorce is much more helpful to kids than compromising your values because your children are going through a tough time.

There are as many types of divorces as there are types of families, and each family creates their own little theater in which the divorce is acted out. For some families, divorce emanates from the adults not being able to get along, solve problems or communicate effectively. In other families, the divorce is the recognition that things are not working for the good of everyone involved. In certain families, divorce is a way to get out of an abusive or destructive relationship, in which case those children ultimately benefit psychologically, even though they will still face fears and even feel loyalty toward the offending parents.

The reason why a divorce is very traumatic for the children involved is because things are changing for them completely and the future is unknown. The most powerful people in their lives have decided to go on a completely different course. Kids use their parents to manage their fears of the unknown. When kids get anxious about the future, they have an unconscious mechanism that tells them their parents will take care of whatever it is that’s bothering them. They do this often and without thinking about it. Divorce can be considered traumatic because it overpowers the children involved. They don’t have the tools or the experience to manage the overwhelming feelings and changes that are happening in their lives. They tend to deal with them in different ways, depending upon what the personality and nature of the child is. "Fear" is often the core feeling they have:  Fear that they’re going to lose things they have, and fear that they’re not going to have things they want. What you’ll see in some cases is that one child will buckle down and do OK in school, and the other child will give up and stop working. These two very different reactions may even occur in the same family. What that means is that one child is dealing with his fear and insecurity through isolating, while the other child is focusing on external things like schoolwork and sports. Some children deal with their fear and anger by acting their emotions out and striking out at others. One withdraws into the fort; the other goes out to meet the enemy.

The major emotions involved with divorce are fear, anger, and grief. The general fear for children is that things are changing and they don’t know what they’re changing into. The anger is that they have no control or power over the situation. And grief emanates from the very real fact that the family they knew has perished. It’s as if it died, and they must, over time, grieve that family. As a parent, you will see the behaviors that characterize anger, fearfulness and grief. The anger might be viewed through verbal or physical acting out, through increased oppositionality and defiance, behavioral acting out in school, or anger and frustration taken out on other siblings or the residing parent. The fearfulness manifests itself through a process of shutting down. Kids will isolate emotionally and physically, spending more time in their rooms or out of the house. They may appear more secretive. They are withdrawing into themselves because of some instinctual feeling they have that this is the best way to protect themselves. And you’ll see kids act out the stages of grief. They may bargain with their parents and try to figure out how to keep them together, they’ll be in denial about the significance of the divorce; they’ll be angry about what it means to them and eventually, if it’s a healthy grieving process, they’ll come to accept it, but that takes time and work. No matter how the kids handle the divorce, they generally don’t want to talk about it to either parent, which creates problems for parents who desperately want their children to understand what’s going on from their perspective.

Kids draw their strength from a variety of sources, but most of all from their parents and their family system. When kids are younger, their parents and family are their sole source of strength. As they develop, school performance, friends and sports become sources of strength, depending upon the individual child. So the first thing parents have to understand is that when the divorce is announced, the kids are going to experience a lot of insecurity about what the future holds. Parents may also feel that insecurity themselves, but they feel empowered to manage it. Children are completely dependent. It’s a sad fact that many children go into poverty after a divorce because the money that used to support one household is now going to support two. The biggest cause of poverty among single parent families in America is divorce. So it puts fear in children. They wonder “What’s going to happen to my parents? Are we going to have enough food? Will I have clothes? Can I still go to the mall on Fridays? Will we be able to do the same things?” These questions all float around in the kids’ heads. Some fears have to do with the well-being of the parents and of the family, and some are age appropriately self-centered. And parents will do well to focus on these things when they talk to the child about the divorce.

Develop a Culture of Accountability in Your Home
Single parents have to develop a culture of accountability in their home once the separation or divorce has taken place. A “culture of accountability” position is one that says, “You are still accountable for your behavior here at home.” So no matter what else is going on outside the house or whatever feelings the child is having, including those that come from legitimate sources, the child is responsible for his or her behavior.  I would say that being structured and clear after a divorce is much more helpful to kids than compromising your values because your children are going through a tough time. Remember, it’s during tough times that we need reliable structure the most. Limits, accountability, parental support, outside support when necessary—these are all part of a culture of accountability in the family. Kids experience a whole range of emotions when a separation and divorce occur. Remember that “divorce” and “separation” are legalistic terms. Once one parent moves out, the kids’ adverse emotional experience begins, no matter how it’s labeled.

Have structure that clearly sets out the responsibilities of each child, outline the way they have to treat each other and the way they have to treat you as the parent. Make sure the limits are clear. Issues such as curfews, use of phone, computer and TV time, expectations around schoolwork and other commitments should all be kept very clear. Hold kids accountable for not meeting their responsibilities. And don’t let things slide because of your divorce. You certainly don’t have to be punitive, but you have to be consistent. Be available to your kids if they want to talk about the divorce or any other subject, and let them know you’re available to talk about things without specifically citing the divorce. Seek outside support when necessary. Certain types of counseling can be very helpful to kids who are experiencing the feelings of grief after a divorce. Also, if children are older and they test the limits by being physical or threatening, do not hesitate to call the police. There are many situations where kids sense a vacuum of power, and they will try to fill it if the parent does not.  This can be especially troublesome in families where there is an adolescent, or families where the children don’t reside with the parent who was the primary limit-setter.

Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting after a Divorce
There are many “do’s” and “don’ts” for parents after a divorce, but here are a few that I think are crucial:

  • Don’t push kids to talk about the divorce if they don’t want to. Be inviting, but not demanding. Let them know there are other resources available to them outside of the family.
  • Do hold kids accountable for their behavior. If kids are acting out, be clear with them. Let them know that even if they’re acting out because of the divorce, they’ll still be held accountable for their behavior.
  • Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. It’s never a good idea.
  • Don’t jump into another relationship and expect kids to be accepting of that person. That may soothe your sense of loss, but for kids, it’s only confusing and frustrating
  • Don’t try to have deep, meaningful conversations with your kids about the divorce. They may act “adultified,” but they are not little adults.
  • Do acknowledge that things have changed.
  • Don’t share all your fear, anxiety, anger resentment or grief with your children. They’re not at a level of development where they can handle that. Often, it makes them feel like they have to take care of you, and that’s not a good position for them to be in.
  • Do family organizational planning and structuring without emotions. Sit down and let kids know what roles are going to change. Don’t do it democratically. Don’t ask for opinions or votes. It’s not helpful to kids to put that responsibility on them.

“Dad lets me do it at his house.”
As I mentioned, a single parent has to develop the culture of accountability in their household. What happens at mom’s house or dad’s house is none of your business, except in cases of safety. Do not let it become part of your child’s alibi system. When your son or daughter says, “Dad lets me do this at his house,” tell them that they’ll have to wait until they get back to Dad’s house until they do it again, because in your home there are consequences for that behavior. You may feel frustrated with the way your ex parents your children, but don’t try to control what goes on in the other parent’s home. That’s a dead end street. There are many situations where parents cooperate with each other after the separation or divorce, but let’s face it, people divorce because they don’t like each other any more, so cooperation can only go so far.

Another issue is that many ex-spouses tell their children details of the marriage that you would rather they didn’t know. This is a common occurrence and parents have to work on not giving it power. First of all, if you show your child that this information has power over you, that child is going to use it in certain situations. So the idea is to say something like, “Whatever your mother says at her house, just discuss it with her. This is not a place to talk about it.” I personally don’t think you should discuss specifics about the divorce. I think you should say, “That’s Mom’s opinion. You’ll have to talk to her about that. In my house, I don’t blame your mother, and I don’t let her blame me.” Understand this: Separation and divorce usually don’t occur or don’t emanate from a peaceful, easygoing marital situation. There are often occurrences such as strong arguments and fights, blaming, cursing, and bad feelings which precede the actual separation or divorce. For better or worse, kids have witnessed what’s occurred and they will know the truth. Parents who use the “Culture of Accountability” model teach kids that using excuses and blaming others does not justify their inappropriate or irresponsible behavior.

If you teach your children not to make excuses and not to justify inappropriate behavior, they will be better prepared to identify when the other parent is using excuses and justifications to explain their behavior.

When is family counseling in order?
Family counseling is a very tricky issue. Some therapists will say that it should not include both parents because it is artificial, and helps kids promote the normal fantasy that their parents will get back together. On the other hand, there are therapists who believe that even if there’s a divorce, the family should address it as a whole system. There are a lot of variables that come into play when deciding which course to take with which therapist. One thing is clear—your child should have the option of seeing someone, but they should not be forced to if they’re managing the divorce effectively. If your child is having behavior problems which either stem from or are intensified by the divorce, the help should be based on him or her learning to manage the problems and feelings underlying the behavior.

My opinion is that therapy should be flexible enough to involve everyone in various combinations, but still avoid involving sessions with both the parents and the children present unless absolutely necessary. Before those sessions, strict ground rules and agendas must be agreed upon by both parents. Remember, it is very likely the differences in perception, interpretation, and behaviors which led to the divorce in the first place could be acted out in the artificial situation. In some cases, kids will not want to participate in these types of therapeutic activities. In my experience, if kids are managing the divorce and the other areas of their life well, they should not be pushed to be involved. On the other hand, if they’re having behavioral or academic performance problems, behavior management therapy should be on the menu.

Divorce carries an inherent risk of damage to the children involved. The more quickly the adults going through the divorce take responsibility for being parents instead of spouses, the better the chances the children will have of adjusting to the new reality of their lives.


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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

READER'S COMMENTS

Thank you for this article. My heart is broken; my 2 older children are now living with their dad because they refused to follow the rules of our house- telling us who they were with, who would be driving, curfew, and demanded that I give them their own car to drive, cell phone, etc. Consequences did nothing but cause them to scream, yell, threaten. Dad gave daughter a car, cell phone, TV and computer in her room and believes her lies and deceptions. She got fired from her job. When I have brought up concerns with my ex he says that "he trusts her". My son was also given a car, grades dropped, and was found with a marijuana pipe. He "F'ed" me off when he left and says he never wants to see me again in his life. My ex has not been cooperative and tells me that he just handles the kids better. I am very sad and wonder if I will ever have a relationship with them again. I have been to our county's parenting teen class and a couselor throughout the divorce and aftermath, who very much support what I do. They just say this is very common, that there isn't much I can do, and that many kids will start to come around again in their 20s. I am so sad; I love my kids.

Comment By : Jewelbug41

Good points in this article. I am going to share it with my colleagues and patients. Thanks for the insight.

Comment By : MA Therapist

This is a timely article for me since what you describe fits my situation quite accurately. My adolescent became very unmanageable and defiant shortly after the divorce. My reason for the divorce was recognizing that things were not working for the good of everyone involved and to get out of a destructive relationship. So I filed, for the well being of the kids, after much prayer. I've not yet regretted doing so, however, the rage and defiance exhibited by that adolescent boy has been almost as scary as my ex's behaviors during the marriage. I did call the police. Three times. I took him to a counselor who implied I wasn't giving him his way enough and that he was a "good boy". That only caused him to become more defiant and abusive and it was like this counselor became the authority over what he could and could not do. So I broke down and spent the money on this program. It has been SO GOOD for me. Thank you. I call the help line often. I've been taking this a day at a time and continue to pray for God's help. It's actually a relief that I ultimately cannot control my son's choices but I CAN and do make his noncompliance quite unpleasant for him. For example, he will not be getting his driver's license at age 16. I told him that in order to drive alone, he needs to be trustworthy. He seems to be seeing the light a bit more these days. I would recommend this program to anyone.

Comment By : lisama

Good article. I, too have experienced the pains of having an "ex" who deliberately opposed me at every turn after our divorce twenty three years ago. It made it difficult to have leverage in discipling the children. I now have a grandson and the "ex" and his wife are in some competition for my grandson's affections, even wanting to raise him since my daughter is not married. She's using everyone to gain any advantage and I'm in the line of fire and don't want to ruin my relationship with my daughter and grandson. Got any ideas how I should position myself?

Comment By : Karen V.

Jewelbug41...I thought You were describing MY situation exactly!! It is very heartbreaking when the "Insecure Ex" encourages disrespect toward the other parent. Kids need "parents with structure" NOT "a friend who enables". I feel helpless watching my kids'go downhill and pray that they will make responsible choices on their own.

Comment By : Lu

Your news letter has provided much clarity and guidance since I signed up for it about 1 year ago. Thank you! I would like to know your opinions and suggestions on the topic of Parental Alienation Syndrome. My husband has 2 teenaged sons who used to spend 1 week with us and one week with their mother. The kids have heard the mother speaking disrespectfully to their father in person and over the phone. The kids have come home with strong opinions on things that were not age appropriate (ie daycare expenses), and have changed their opinion on vacations we took together that they initially said they enjoyed (couldn't wait to do it again), only to come home after being with their mother to hear them complain that it wasn't really a good vacation for kids after all! The kids don't respect their father and are being taught to hate both of us. The oldest son's behavior has deteriorated from disrespectful treatment to verbal abuse to creating messes in our bedrooms (mine and his brother's too). He even went as far as dumping garbage on our bed, dumping needed medication on the floor (where the family pet could have eaten it!) and writing curses and threats in the dust on furniture (ok... so I should dust more often...). I actually went through months (probably longer) of insomnia with high stress wondering when he would become physically violent... could I get to the phone in time to call 911??? We have tried to go to counselling with him, but when things didn't go exactly as his mother and he wanted, he was encouraged to quit going. He now lives with his mother full time and hates my husband and blames me for all kinds of things I am not guilty of doing. The 2nd son still goes back and forth to both homes. He is much easier going and seems to be doing better in our home now that there is peace (we all are, actually, despite my husband's missing his son), but we worry that he is still subjected to the same parental alienation tactics. Actually, we worry that she may crank up the heat on him to get him to stay with her full time too. We try to keep communication open with him, but feel that he is secretive about things. We have already lost one child to this form of abuse... how do we stop it from affecting the other child too?? How do we bridge the gap with the first one?? I would love to read more on this topic. I see some of the other parents out there are frustrated by ex's style of parenting. Up until now, I have not realized there is a name for this manipulation. This is an actual syndrome and a form of child abuse. Thank you.

Comment By : Annie

ALL WHO TRY CONTINUALLY AND PRAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN AND LET THEM KNOW THAT YOU LOVE THEM NO MATTER WHAT FOLLOWS, WILL ONE DAY RECIEVE ANSWERS OF HOPE THAT YOUR CHILDREN ARE RETURNING TO THE CORRECT GUIDELINES THAT YOU HAVE TAUGHT THEM WHEN YOUNGER. I HAVE WINNESSED THIS OVER AND OVER AGAIN WITH MY CHILDREN, EXTENDED FAMILY AND EVEN FRIENDS WHO NEVER GIVE UP LOVING AND TEACHING DISPITE THE PRESENT CONDITIONS. DON'T GIVE UP HOPE AND REMAIN AS HAPPY AS POSSIBLE - THIS TOO SHALL PASS. KEEP POSITIVE - YOUR CHILDREN WILL HOLD TO THAT WHEN THEY FINALLY HIT A WALL AND REALIZE THAT THEIR WAY IS NOT WORKING. LIFE IS FOR EXPERIENCES - THEY WILL LEARN, EVEN IF IT IS THE HARD WAY - KEEP LOVING THEM - THEY REALLY DO FEEL AND REMEMBER WHAT YOU HAVE TAUGHT THEM. THESE ARTICLES AND MANY MORE TO COME WILL HELP US ALL TO COPE AND REALIZE THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS STRESSFUL TIME OF CHILD REARING. GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS US ALL. GREAT ARTICLE. THANK YOU. ROBB

Comment By : ROBB

I have a son who is ten, seizures, ADHD, intermittant explosive disorder, 1 kidney, a mentally retarded, there is more. I have followed these steps and they work. Dad is not involved. Only casually.Remember a positive attitude always helps. And because I had a great childhood with divorce I have something to fall back on. It does matter.Love, Teresa and Alex

Comment By : Teresa

Great article! Would love to see more of this subject, i.e, how to keep loving these children who suddenly, in their teen years, succumb to promises made by the Disneyland parent and move in with that parent. It's heartbreaking, disturbing and suddenly difficult to love the child without entirely giving in to their demands. And to stay happy throughout all of it? Seems IMPOSSIBLE to say the least. Example: I get a Christmas list a full page long from this child only to find out she has no plans on spending any of the holiday with me because I don't allow the "bad news" boyfriend to hang out at my house - which the other parent not only allows but encourages. Feels very difficult to keep on loving this 17 year old child who doesn't even care to spend any time with me. I'm trying to act as if it doesn't bother me, and the more I do that the easier it is, however, I feel my love for her diminishing too...am I doing the right thing? and how do I keep on loving her?

Comment By : kmm0818

I am going through some of these issues with my daughter where she says she hates living with me because of my rules. She wants to live with her dad because he has no rules. I don't want to let her go and I don't want to stop having rules and let her run the house. Any suggestions would be help greatly.

Comment By : worriedmom

This was an excellent article, and I too am faced with the same situation as many others, MY daughter, now 16, has come to live with me and my new husband. She was with us once before and only stayed 3 months becuase of the "rules", she said it felt like prison, so she went back to live with her father, who is neglectful and verbally and mentally abusive, BUT she got to do whatever she wanted. After almost a year she "begged" to come back and after a couple of months, counseling and a Behavioral Contract allowed her to do so. It has now been 7 months and although her grades have improved, she is sneakly, a compulsive liar, we had to put a lock on our bedroom door because she tried to break in it, set the house alarm and are now considering surveillance camera's....She has "NO" privileges whatsoever at the moment! My new husband is beginning to get very resentful and I can't say I blame him! She doesn't get it! i don't want to make her "go" back to her dad, but I am fearful it will end up that way if this continues! Help!

Comment By : time2bblessed

Hi, everyone! I, too had a dire time when my stepdaughter, 17 at the time, persuaded her dad and me she "had" to live with us. Her dad and I had just gotten married several months earlier, and she had been living with her mom primarily. Once in our house, she "relaxed" and became extremely lackadaisical. The pressure was off her, as her mom, by her and my husnband's accounts, is an unpredicatable often abusive gal, especially when drunk. AAAnyway, I was new to this game, having two older sons who were very responsible, already out of the house. I had to hold my stepdaughter repsonsible, as her dad had long ago caved in, I found. It became a legal matter when my ID was stolen and a spending spree ensued. Years later, she is respectful to both her dad and me (though it almost cost us our marriage), because she knows my word is reliable, and I will follow through after warnings. This scenario caused a LOT of ill will when I brought the charges and found SHE was the culprit, but in the end, she is far more responsible and is growing up. I know this is extreme, but I am pretty sure she'd be doing very poorly without any restraints on her behavior back then.

Comment By : WickedStepmom

This topic certainly hits home! I have been debating therapy for awhile now. I think it is time for both my son and I to go together. The divorce really angers my son (even though it has been 7 years now). I've sent him to therapy in the past by himself but he hated it. We need to re-connect. I only have my one child and both of my parents were already passed when I had him. I feel alone and have no idea what I am doing! I get easily frustrated. My boyfriend who we now live with tries to have a friendly relationship with my son but my son is so rude to him. I don't think his father is saying things behind our back to fuel this but who knows. His father has issues of his own BUT he is a good Dad. He pays his child support and takes him every other weekend faithfully. My sons behavior at home is just taking its toll. I just don't know what to do???

Comment By : PattyJ

* Dear ‘Patty J’: It can take time for kids to adjust to new living arrangements and new relationships. It’s great that your boyfriend is trying to keep his relationship on a ‘friend’ basis with your son. You can assure your son that he has the right to whatever feelings he has about your boyfriend. However, let him know that regardless of his feelings, he is expected to behave politely toward others. Call us here on the Support Line and give us more details of the behaviors you are working on with your son. We can offer specific ideas on how to use the techniques in the Total Transformation program. Keep in touch.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

When children are involved in a divorce things get very hard. There are so many emotions that you feel. If you need parenting divorce advice look at this website http://www.dadsdivorce.com they offer excellent service.

Comment By : lillyadams790

To KMM0818 -- That is my experience as well. I've been the great mom, disicplinarian, car pool manager, den mother, school volunteer, etc. But when I decided to leave an emotionally abusive marriage, my kids have done a complete turn about. They want nothing to do with me and it hurst me so deeply. Their father has brainwashed them, telling them I'm the reason for the unhappiness, falsely accusing me of having an affir, telling them I go away every other weekend because I don't care about them or love them. He projects his feelings onto them. It is horrible. The children (15 and 18) treat me so bad, it is hard to keep loving them as well.

Comment By : funnygirl303

This article has given me some great advice but it may be too late. My situation is much like Jewelbug41. It's been 6 years since divorce and both of my kids have been manipulated for that period of time. My hands are tied and I have no control in my own home due to cell phones their dad purchased for them so he can control them at my home. The kids follow his rules at my house because dad will take away their cell phones if they don't. My kids 10 and 12 and I have no control in my own house. My ex calls them at least 3-5 times each evening after I get home from work and they answer to him. He treats me like his floormat and they have learned to do the same because dad treats mom like that it's ok for them to and they are no consequences for any actions at his house so now both want to live with dad because they have consequences at my house. Please help! I would also be very grateful if you could pass my email address along to Jewelbug41 and ask her to email me with any solutions that have worked for her. I'm desperate at this point.

Comment By : shockedandlost

* To ‘shockedandlost’: It’s never easy when you have an ex-husband who seems completely opposed to you, much less controlling your children even when they are at your home on your time with them. The hardest part is focusing on what you can control, which is yourself because as you already know, you can’t control your ex. Do your best to continue to set limits and hold your kids accountable in your home with the privileges you provide there such as TV and computer for example. It might even help to focus on just one behavior to start such as disrespect, or even try to set up incentive systems for them to accomplish certain tasks while at your home. We also encourage you to find ways to take care of yourself and cope with what is going on. Many parents in this situation find it helpful to have a counselor or therapist in their local area that can support them, work with them to enhance their coping skills, and teach them new skills for communicating with the co-parent more effectively about the situation. We know this is really hard and we wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I have 3 sons with my ex under a shared parenting agreement. We are both remarried, he has a child with his new wife.I have tried to be a supportive mother. I encourage love, respect and honesty. I would try to communicate with my ex regarding the children and I wanted to show them that even though we were divorced we could get along for them. NO GO. 3 years ago my then 16, and 13 year old decided they didn't want to live with me anymore. Shared parenting has been dissolved. I was assigned custody of the youngest, who was happy and doing well. Now he has decided he doesn't want to come home after his weekend visitation with his dad. I am simply heartbroken. I have not tried to call, or visit. My husband and I initially tried to speak to him and get to the bottom of what was going on, but he was so irrational, and yelling. I just filed the police report to let them know what happened, and I haven't been back. I feel like running away. Selling everything and moving away.

Comment By : destroyed

My ex has consistently opposed me to my son at every turn. My son has sworn at me, pulled a knife, etc. I brought him, when 10 yrs old for evaluation at hospital. Social Service stepped in and put him in a foster home stating that I was wrong in bringing him. These parents disrespected me and teamed up with the biological dad who is an alcoholic. Also my family undermined me at every turn and interfered when I attempted to talk to my son telling me to leave him alone. y son would curse at me as soon as he saw me even when I said hello and that I loved him. Now at 22 yrs old, he was living with my mom who just died. After her death, my sister and him took out an order of protection because I called them on the phone to come over to my moms house to get my things. My son sees the gross disrespect from adult role models such as my sister, his father and the foster parents for years. With an order of protection against me for a year, I will not be able to establish any kind of relationship with him. I have tried for years and he keeps disrespecting me and pushing me away because others have a hold on him. He gets free room and board at my moms house. My sister was given the house. How do I establish a relationship with my son after the order or protection is done? also, there is a daughter in another household who is broken contact with me, same father.

Comment By : jennifer

* Hi Jennifer. This is such a tough situation and I imagine it’s been a painful one for you too. It’s never easy when you have a child who refuses to speak to you or family members that seem to be trying to alienate your child from you. One of the hardest things to do in these situations, but one of the most important, is to recognize and accept that you can only control yourself. Your son has a choice as to whether or not he wants to rebuild your relationship and he could possibly decide he’s not ready for that right now. We would recommend that you focus on taking care of yourself, perhaps look into getting some support in your area. When the time comes you can reach out to your son and let him know you would like to meet up and talk. Be clear about what your goal is for the conversation, don’t try to push him to talk about something that he is uncomfortable talking about, and try to keep the conversation focused on the two of you and your relationship, rather than the other members of the family and what they are doing that is hurtful to you. Do your best to talk with him in a calm and business-like way and have a plan for how you will react if he is hurtful toward you so that you can stay calm. We know this is hard and we hope that you are able to make some positive changes in your relationship with your son. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Oh my goodness - this is exactly what I am experiencing. My ex has worked on our two children for the last 19 years. I always thought that if I take the high the road and act right that things would be alright. I was wrong. I suspected, but never knew the depth of the brainwashing that was going on at dad;s house. Still, I thought that MY children would be smart enough to see that their dad was buying them off, giving them much more freedom than I was comfortable with, and enabling them to disrespect me. Finally, in 2010 year, my 17 year old son, light of my life, called me on a Sunday afternoon from his dads house to tell me that he would not be coming back to live at my house. He told me that he "couldn't be sure that I would act in his best interests". I was shocked, hurt, and so amazed at his coldness towards me. He also commented that, "living at my house is not enjoyable." I asked my ex to please speak with our son, but my ex said that our son is old enough to make up his own mind and that he would not interfere. I filed to enforce the custody agreement in court. The master only spoke with my son in private and the outcome was that my ex was awarded primary physical. The weekends that were to occur at my house never materialized. My son never sees me or calls me. In fact, he never sees anyone on my side of the family and doesn't take their calls either. It has been 2 years. I am growing to accept that my future does not include one of my babies. As an aside, I never seen any counselor directly address this issue of alienation. The feedback seems to always default to the divorce dos and donts, but it seems there is no advice - or perhaps there are no solutions - to this sort of situation.

Comment By : Nanjodeyea

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