Expert Author Susan Leigh
Divorce usually results in children living full-time with one parent and having limited access to the other. Often they will live with one parent through the week, whilst the other parent may see them one or two evenings and perhaps alternate weekends and holidays. Both parents can feel guilt at the disruption of their children's lives. Trying to respect what is best for the children and establish some basic ground rules between them can help both parents manage a difficult situation in the best possible way.
Let's look at some of the areas that can cause guilt:
- Discipline can be difficult to maintain with any degree of consistency when there are two separate households to consider. The main parent often has the day-to-day routine of school, homework and after school activities to manage and consider. The absent parent often wants to enjoy spending time with the children and may be more lenient, regarding seeing them as fun time and treats. It can be very disruptive when there is a clear disparity between how they are treated in the two homes. Children are very quick to learn how to play the system and playing one parent against the other is a powerful way of fuelling guilt.
- Money is often a difficult area after a divorce. One parent often has to manage a tight budget whilst the other may well have a lot of spare cash. The main parent often has to spend their money on things that largely go unseen, like food, school uniforms, gas and electricity. They can feel guilty at not being able to buy expensive trainers and gadgets for their children. The other parent can become the one who buys expensive gifts and treats as a way of compensating for not being with them as much. Both parents often feel guilty in their own ways. Money can become a weapon to be used to compound or assuage that guilt.
- Food and a healthy diet is important to growing children. Divorce can mean that children eat regular, healthy meals when they are with the main parent. When they visit the other parent they often tend to eat rather differently. They may be given take aways, burgers, fizzy drinks, snacks and then return to their main home over-excited and difficult to settle. Very few children will choose to eat vegetables, fruit and limit their sugar intake. They have to be handled firmly. Parents have to agree to behave like parents and insist on their children eating and drinking in a healthy way, with only the occasional treat.
- Entertainment. Age appropriate entertainment is important for children. This can be difficult to manage if children vary significantly in age. I have worked with parents who have been horrified when their children have returned from an access visit to their absentee parent. Sometimes young children have been allowed to watch violent films, pornography or made to participate in games and sports that they were too young to enjoy or understand. It was upsetting for the child when their parent became irritated or frustrated at their distress or lack of competency. Tailoring entertainment so that it is fun, appropriate and enjoyable for all is important for the child and for the relationship they hope to build with their parents.
Divorced parents need to tread carefully. Children want to spend time with their parents, want to feel loved and secure when they are with them. Feeling important to their parents and receiving quality attention from them is often more important than any expensive gifts, holidays or treats. Children are very astute, they will play the system and know when they are being bribed. But it doesn't mean that they mistake that treatment for love.