by: Cynthia MacGregor
Your pre-teen daughter is having a full-on meltdown. Her emotions are raging, and her screaming and crying theatrics are enough to win her an Oscar for best performance.
Your three-year-old son is in the midst of a temper tantrum, screaming and kicking the floor and screaming “No!” over and over so loudly that you’d think he was scheduled for a return visit to the torture chamber.
You look at your daughter or son—hopefully they’re not both falling to pieces at the same time—and shake your head. "This is what happens when children have a divorce thrust on them," you tell yourself. You resolve to treat them with extra care from now on to make up for the fact that their father doesn’t live with them anymore. After all, look at the state the kids are in right now — clearly the result of an emotional upheaval.
Uh…wait a second. Not so fast. You might be right — or you might be 180° wrong. The point of this article is embedded in the title: Other kids have problems, too. Your daughter might be reacting to the fact that her father didn’t pick her up as promised last Saturday, even though, on the surface, she’s wailing about a teacher’s unfairness or a friend’s betrayal. Or she might be merely going through a bit of pre-teen angst and typical adolescent emotional upheaval.
Your son might be “acting out” because he misses his dad, or he might be simply a stubborn, obstinate, resistant personality by nature having nothing to do with living in a one-parent family. What’s more, if you cater to the illusion that all their behavior issues and emotional outbursts result from the divorce, you’ll be teaching them to “play the divorce card” whenever they want to beg you for something or get away with outrageously bad behavior. They’ll insist that they’re “entitled” to an expensive toy or other purchase, or a free pass for a total lack of consideration for others, because—poor things—their parents are divorced.
What they’re "entitled" to is comfort, consideration, and understanding. Not bribery, emotional blackmail, or the freedom to trample on others’ rights or feelings. By all means take into consideration their status as children of divorce when you are deciding how to treat an outburst, a demand, or other inappropriate behavior. Certainly it’s fine to talk to them and tell them that you understand that they’re feeling bad because your ex declined to take your daughter to the father-daughter dance at church and isn’t around to play computer games with your son anymore like your son’s best friend and his dad do.
But you still have to lay down the law. You can’t accept their disappointment as validation for bad behavior. You still need to put a stop to it and mete out consequences if appropriate—grounding, loss of privileges, or whatever “punishment fits the crime,” as Gilbert & Sullivan said in The Mikado.
But you need to bear in mind that not every outburst or bad mood is attributable to the divorce. You need to remember this for two reasons:
1. As I said above, you don’t want to let the kids get away with murder or learn to play the divorce card as a “get out of jail free” escape from the consequences of bad behavior.
2. You don’t want to be too hard on yourself or even on your ex. If you were the one who asked for the divorce, or if he left the marriage but blamed his leaving on something you did (or didn’t do), if you overplay the effects of the divorce on the kids, you’re likely to wind up getting angry with yourself: “If I hadn’t left him/asked him to leave, or if I hadn’t done what I did we’d still be together and the kids wouldn’t be going through all this crap.” You heap unneeded blame on yourself.
If he was the one who asked for the divorce, or if you left the marriage but did so because of flaws, faults, or actions of his, it’s all too easy now to get angry at him for the way the kids are acting and for the underlying feelings you assume they’re experiencing. Chances are, you’re already angry at him for other reasons; you don’t need to add needless additional reasons to the list. It isn’t fair to him, and it builds up a lot of negative emotions within you, as well
So the next time one of your kids acts up, kicks up a fuss, or otherwise gets out of line, remember, not every problem is attributable to the divorce. Other kids have problems, too!
Cynthia MacGregor is a multi-published author with over 100 books to her credit, of which roughly half were published conventionally and the remainder as e-books. They include After Your Divorce, Divorce Helpbook for Kids, Divorce Helpbook for Teens, Solo Parenting, "Step" This Way, and others. Forthcoming books include The One-Parent Family, Why Are Mommy and Daddy Getting Divorced, and Daddy Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She does write on other subjects besides divorce! To see the full range of her books, please visitwww.cynthiamacgregor.com. For nearly two years she hosted and produced the TV show Solo Parenting, which was broadcast in South Florida over WHDT. Her column "Solo Parenting" appeared on www.TheSoloParent.com(now out of business) and DangerousLee.biz.
Besides writing books, Cynthia is available for freelance writing assignments of most types as well as freelance editing. She has edited books, magazines, web copy, business materials, and more. She has also ghostwritten books for others. Cynthia has had nearly a dozen one-act plays staged, most notably by the Palm Springs Players, a community theatre group in Palm Springs FL. One of her shows, King Theo, written for a family audience, was produced in New York in the ’90s. Her song "America Again" (she wrote the lyrics) can be heard athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyJF4rvTo6w&feature=youtu.be. You can contact Cynthia with inquiries about her books, about writing or editing assignments, or on other matters at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com. Cynthia is a contributing expert at HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, CupidsPulse.com, and LAFamily.com.
This excerpt is from The One-Parent Family by Cynthia MacGregor, published by Familius. For more information about this book, please visit http://familius.com/the-one-parent-family