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Children and Divorce - 5 Steps To Take When Your Spouse Drags Your Child into the Uncertainty and Pain of Divorce

Updated on February 13, 2013

You Can Gain Control Over What Is Happening to You and Your Child

Divorce is difficult for children, even when both parents exercise maturity and compassion in order to put the welfare of their child above all else. But when parents fail to understand or care about a child's welfare, the child becomes a pawn in a devastating power game.

If you find that your spouse is dragging your child into the uncertainty and pain of divorce, here are five steps you can take to give both yourself and your child control over what appear to be insurmountable obstacles.

1 ● Accept That You Cannot Change Your Spouse

There is nothing you can do to change the way your spouse behaves. Your spouse's behaviors may include mean-mouthing you in front of the child, seeking custody not for the welfare of the child but to punish you, repeatedly promising to keep to a mutually agreed schedule or commitment and then deliberately failing to follow through, and the list goes on.

Recognize that your spouse is acting out of immature self-interest. Avoid analyzing these behaviors to the point where it makes you sick and ineffective. Accept this difference between you, that there is nothing you can do to change it, and move on.

You may find courage and inspiration, as I did, in the Serenity Prayer. Keep in your heart that when it comes to knowing what you can and cannot change, you do have the wisdom to "distinguish the one from the other".

2 ● Understand What is Happening to You During the Divorce Process

Your marriage had its own life, just as any living, breathing organism. It was born, it grew, it faltered, and now it is going to die. You will be grieving for its loss. The National Mental Health Information Center is a good place to learn about grief, its symptoms, its impact, and its outcome.

Grief is not the only emotion that can take center stage in a divorce. Anger, frustration, loneliness, and shame are among the competitors.

Learn as much as you can about what is happening to you so that you can identify the origins of the emotions you are feeling. Seek out trusted friends and family members, support groups, a therapist or counselor, and a religious advisor to help you. You need to come to an understanding of yourself in order to understand what is happening to your child.

3 ● Understand What is Happening to Your Child

Just as it is for you, everything in your child's life is in upheaval. Your child is experiencing an earthquake. The floor is falling out from under and then rising up again, and your child cannot gain balance. The result is that your child lacks any meaningful, positive sense of control and consequently is afraid.

We are supposed to be there for our children, especially through an earthquake. We are their rocks of strength, pillows of comfort, and owls of wisdom. But when we have an agenda that doesn't include the welfare of our children, we can be none of these things. Your child knows this intuitively and behaves accordingly.

Learn more about your child's perspective by reading the Children and Divorce article at the website of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

4 ● Listen to Your Child

Your child has much to say, although you will hear little or none of it unless you learn to listen, because your child is in a circumstance where saying something to you that is both truthful and painful is enormously difficult. Your child is as busy protecting you as you are protecting your child.

You can engage in a dialog that reveals what your child is thinking through a technique called active listening. When you listen actively, you are encouraging your child to keep talking, you are helping your child to clarify thoughts and emotions, you are showing that you are interested and loving and not judgmental, and you are validating the worth of your child's thoughts and opinions.

Active listening is a powerful technique. For more information about active listening, read LSU's article on talking with children. And consider buying the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

When you listen to your child, your child will be listening to you.

5 ● Be Your Child's Role Model

You know the old saying often directed to children, "Do as I say, not as I do." As adults, we laugh at this gem because we understand its underlying joke. But when children hear these words, they find nothing funny. In fact, all children have to hear is "Do as I say...", without the rest, and they know immediately that they are being commanded to do something that the parent isn't necessarily able or willing to do.

Likewise, your child is "reading between the lines" and aware of your feelings, without your having to say one word. If you are trying to suppress your feelings, your child is on to that, too.

This is your opportunity to show your child how you acknowledge and react to negative feelings, just as you do to positive feelings. This is very hard to do, because we would rather pretend that everything is good and happy and safe in order to protect our children. But children know the difference between good and bad, happy and sad, satisfaction and frustration, and comfort and pain. When we act as though all is roses, they know we are lying. If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of divorce, it is the positive, honest example you can set for your child. Our children need to see how we manage difficulty, so that they can learn to do the same.

On a Personal Note...

My opinions and advice come from my heart and from a long time in therapy dealing with my own divorce. There are still times when my heart burns and my anger flares. But I am blessed to have the most wonderful daughter to listen to and learn from.

© 2008 Sally's Trove. All rights reserved.


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    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      thougtforce, thank you for your kind, compassionate, and empathetic words.

      We've heard it said that children are resilient, that they can "bounce back." That's true on some levels, but when they are placed in the middle of divorcing, warring parents who don't put their children's welfare first, the scars the children endure last a lifetime.

      I'm touched by your comment, " is sad that you had to get this wisdom." I guess I got it, at least partly, by being on both sides of the fence. Not only was I a parent who went through a divorce, but I was also a child of divorce. I'm not so sad about that as I am grateful for being able to see divorce from the perspectives of both adults and children.

      Thank you again. :)

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      @josh3418, thank you for leaving your thoughtful and positive comment. What I can add is that parents are always their children's first role models, the people in a child's life who will have the greatest impact. If parents can't put the child first while going through divorce, what lesson does that teach the child about himself, about his own children in the future, and about respect for others?

      @KDuBarry03, sadly, most people don't know how to put their own agendas aside in order to truly hear what another is saying. When it's children that need to be heard, it's nothing short of emotional abuse that warring parents join forces in self-serving arguments at the expense of their children. Thank you for your insightful comments.

      @tillsontitan, thank you for the votes and the good words. :) This is a topic I feel strongly about, and I'm very glad others find value here.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      6 years ago from Sweden

      I have gone through a divorce but fortunately with no children involved at that time. But I have seen it happen to so many of my friends and it can be devastating for the children. It is difficult and you have written an excellent hub about the subject although it is sad that you had to get this wisdom!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      As all the others before me have said, this is a great hub. You can tell its written from the heart and with experience. Many valuable lessons within.

      Voted up, useful and awesome.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This hub deals with a very common problem that, sadly, people overlook. Some parents I know got divorces and did not realize how it affected their children until months or years after the fact because they did not listen. Yes, listening is very difficult in a time of trouble; however, engaging the difficult things in life normally leads to better results and a softer, more civil conclusion in any problem.

      Thank you for writing and sharing this informative hub!

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania


      This is some great advice here on a subject so very sad, but true. This does happen all the time, where the child is left unnoticed and uncared for. I thank you for taking the time to include the child in this situation...

      "it is the positive, honest example you can set for your child. " Such a simple statement, but so very profound at the same time. Very interesting read, you did a great job here Sherri!

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for sharing, Holle. It saddens me that so many "have been there."

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Sherri, this is great advice. I've been there!

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Dineane, thank you so much for the good words.

      When we set out on the road to divorce, we might have an idea of what can happen on the journey, but we can't possibly know ahead of time how a specific aspect will affect ourselves and the ones we love. It is never an easy road, and always more difficult than we imagine.

      I am glad you participate in a divorce support group. I wish I had known about that kind of help back in the day.

      Best regards, Sally

    • dineane profile image


      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Very nice hub...and needed for so many! I will refer my divorce support group friends here!

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Well, that's the point, isn't it, Marisue? Grown ups aren't always grown ups. Too many wear only their own shoes, failing to put their feet into the shoes of their children. In that respect they are immature, selfish, and self-centered, and never should have had children to begin with.

      Right. Children raising children. And our society condones this. DON'T GET ME STARTED!


    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Kids need us to build a wall of security and unity around them....the hard ol' world will poke thru to them soon enough; unfortunately, many going thru a divorce only see their issues...not what it does to the kids; even using them for personal gain at their expense. If they would just look and see ---

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Marisue, thank you for your astute comments.

      When we go this road to marriage and children, we really don't know what we have in store for us.  Although it matters what our friends and parents tell us, ultimately, we have to figure it out for ouselves.  Although it matters how our friends and parents try to guide us, we still have to go our own way.

      Our children should not suffer our indecision at any step stone in the path.

      Life happens and there's no preditcting where that might go. Nobody has 20-20 vision ahead of the game.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Marisue. (Is there some kind of emoticon for the peace symbol? We need that.)

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      That's a great philosophy Sally --- Life happens. I tell my kids not to expect me to be perfect and I won't them. While we are parenting, life is happening to us, too. Who, looking back, would not have turned down a different road if they had full vision...yet, who's to say that what happens to us is not supposed to be, so that we gain wisdom.

      Here's what I we live, we're going to learn certain concepts. How we learn them may differ, but a situation in our life for that learning is unavoidable.

      No pain, no gain. I try very hard not to blame myself for errors I've made, as I figure I would have made them anyway, just in a different "play/drama."

      At least that is where my gray-hair-currently-covered-up-by-Clairol has taken me.

      I'm liking you more and more. =)

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Robie, you are so right.  Divorce affects children at any age.  For them, no matter how young or old they are, divorce is an inconsolable loss for which they must grieve.  The family they knew, died.

      I look at myself as another person bumbling through life:  right about some things, wrong about others.  The serenity prayer helps me keep a perspective.  The prayer is a plea for help, and as such, reminds me that I am small in the scheme of things.  I don't shun responsibility, but at the same time, I am not in control of everything.

      Thank you so much for sharing.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      10 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Another great hub ST. I too love the serenity prayer and have used it for many years. I am also divorced, but thankfully my children were in their 30's when this happened but it was still tough emotionally for everyone. I don't think we ever outgrow the need for 'a soft place to fall." and I, at least, when push comes to shove, am capable of acting like a hurt angry child still--thank God for forgiveness :)

      I'm also a child of divorce and so is my ex. Looks like our son and his wife won't be carrying on the family tradition though, for which I am sooooooo grateful. Thumbs up up up

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Veronica, thank you so much for your kind words.

      Yes, communication is the most important thing about being human with and to each other. Why is it that so many find it so hard to do? The answer to this question would spawn many hubs and account for many visits to therapists.

      In a divorce, parents need to separate their garbage from what is best for the kids. Very hard to do.

      Best regards, ST.

    • Veronica profile image


      10 years ago from NY

      Sally, I'm sorry you had to go through such a bad divorce. This was such a touching and nicely put together piece on taking the steps to get through such a thing.

      I think you're advice about listening to your kids is great. Communication is always the most important thing, isn't it.

      Best to you.

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Marisue, thank you for your kind and heart-felt words. I do believe I have come a long way, and this belief is a message of hope for other parents and children.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Bless your heart and bless you for sharing this wisdom.  While life is happening to parents, we can overlook the effect it has on our children.  Communication is so important and you put it beautifully!  

      Does "You've come a long way, baby!"  apply here?  I'm glad you're on the other side of most of the pain!   =)   Marisue

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      vrajavala, thank you so much for sharing. It is so painful for children when they lose their mother-father family. Why must a parent add to the pain by staying away?

    • vrajavala profile image


      10 years ago from Port St. Lucie

      Children do suffer through a divorce and sometimes the relatives are not very helpful either. I have some persoanl experience of this, when I was going through a divorce, the Judge asked them their choice. They went with their father, because they believed he was wealthier. 6 yrs later, he dumped them. 20 yrs later they hardly hear from him.

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      PattyTrish, thank you so much for your warm words. I will say "back atcha" have much to share here, and I can't wait to see your first hub! S.

    • trish1048 profile image


      10 years ago

      The stars and planets were aligned perfectly so many years ago when our paths crossed, and here we remain, the best of friends. I've been blessed to be a part of your life.

      Your pages are outstanding,,,,,and I'm sure you've helped more people than you even know with your words of wisdom gained through so many trials and tribulations.

      always, your dear friend,


    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I don't know about wisdom, Neil. I just know about my experience as a mother and as a child. I wanted my daughter to speak her mind, and I wanted to affirm her feelings. I knew I needed help doing that, and I got help.

      You sound like a gifted listener. Your grandchildren may be writing hubs about you in the not too distant future!

      Best regards.

    • proudgrandpa profile image


      10 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Your wisdom is sound and valuable. I have spent most of my life working with young people and your thought of listening to them made me look like a genius and I did and still do learn so much from those fertile minds.

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks very much, Angela. It is a common problem. In the US today, the expectation is that more than 1 out of every 2 marriages will end in divorce.

      I so sincerely wish that parents would take their shoes off and put their feet in the shoes of their children. Of course, the parents' feet won't fit, and that's the point.

      Best regards, Sally.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      10 years ago from Around the USA

      This is an EXCELLENT hub. Sadly, it deals with an all too common problem. I gave you a thumbs up.

    • Sally's Trove profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      You are most gracious. It was you who asked this question of the HubPages community, not Lisa. I apologize and will amend my personal note. I think I got carried away by the issue at hand. My best regards and wishes to you! ~Sally.

    • RainbowRecognizer profile image


      10 years ago from Midwest

      I do appreciate this heart felt answer to my request, Sally. You obviously have healed a lot through your experience and your wisdom show brightly. Thank you. :)


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