Fox Rothschild’s New Jersey Family Law Legal Blog welcomes Kelly Sutliff, MA, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor with Kelly Sutliff, LPC, located in Madison, New Jersey, as a guest blogger.
Having known Kelly for over ten (10) years and speaking at length with her about the trauma that many children suffer through as a result of divorce, I thought it would be helpful for readers to hear about the mental and emotional impact of this process from a mental health professional. Below is an excerpt from a piece written by Kelly to better help parents going through a divorce understand the impact on their child.
“It’s my fault”. “My parents don’t love me anymore”. “I lost my family”. “I’ll never see my mom/dad again”. These heartbreaking comments are commonly mentioned by children affected by divorce. Although these comments may be unrealistic, the sense of loss a child may feel as a result of his or her parents’ divorce can be overwhelming and devastating. It is important for parents to help their children to cope with the divorce as well as to seek outside professional help, if needed.
Divorce can be an emotionally traumatic experience that can have an impact on a child’s feelings of safety, security, and stability. Frequently, the stress children feel as a result of their parents’ divorce relates to the family structure changing. Children fear change and the amount of changes that follow a divorce can be overwhelming and frightening. Many children also feel a loss of attachment to one or both of their parents after a divorce. Changes in scheduling and how often they see a certain parent can cause a certain amount of distress. The fear of being abandoned is also a fear that many children of divorced families face. Often, they feel that because one parent has moved out of the “family home”, they are likely to lose the other parent at some point as well. They may blame themselves, feel unloved, and worry that they are the cause of their parents’ relationship ending. Another factor that can lead to children’s feelings of stress is hostility and fighting between parents. Arguments and tension between parents may make children feel angry, guilty, and alone. Some children feel “put in the middle” of their parents’ arguments and believe that they are being asked to choose sides. The internal struggle that these children face when feeling this way can have profound negative effects on their behavior.
Parents can absolutely help their children through the process of divorce. Research indicates that it is vital to talk with your children about the divorce. Although this will certainly be painful for you, sharing general information about the divorce with your children will help to open the lines of communication between you and your children as well as foster a sense of trust. During conversations about the divorce, it will help to listen to what your children say and how they feel (even if you do not agree) and to reassure them that they are loved immensely and that the divorce is not their fault. It is also important to clear up any misunderstandings about the divorce that they may have. Another helpful strategy for parents is to maintain structure and stability as much as possible. Divorce causes many changes. It is important to help your children adjust to one change at a time. For many children, dealing with many changes at once can be overwhelming. Creating regular routines for children is helpful.
One of the most important factors in helping your children cope with divorce is maintaining an amicable relationship with your soon-to-be-ex. Although this may be very difficult at times, conflict between parents can have negative consequences on children. Limiting the amount and the intensity of conflicts between yourself and your soon-to-be-ex is vital. Remember, although you are not a couple any longer, you are obligated to parent your children together. Therefore, collaborating about child-rearing techniques and discipline will help your children significantly.
Some children deal with their parents’ divorce with relatively few problems, while others have a very difficult time. Through individual and family therapy, children will be given the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings and to communicate their concerns with an experienced professional who can assist them in developing healthy coping strategies. Not only does therapy benefit children, it will also help parents to continue to parent their children effectively, even though they are no longer a couple.
Kelly Sutliff can be reached at (973) 224-2574. Feel free to visit her website at www.kellysutlifflpc.com.
Sandra Fava is a contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of Fox Rothschild’s Family Law Practice Group. Sandra practices throughout New Jersey in all areas of family law and family law litigation. You can reach Sandra at (973)994-7564, or firstname.lastname@example.org.