What Am I Teaching My Children by Getting a Divorce?

You’re teaching them about

integrity, honor, respect, self-confidence

and that we all have the right to a great life. You’re teaching them that abuse will not be tolerated, that agreements are kept, that the truth always comes out and that lying is something we all do but look down upon and definitely don’t need to accept. You’re teaching them how to stand on their own two feet; how to speak up and be seen; how to recreate a life. You’re teaching them

resilience, compassion, boundaries, and self-worth.

You are teaching them that it’s never too soon to show up and to grow up.

Even very young children know what’s happening.

They may not be able to articulate what they’re witnessing (thank goodness for our brilliant child therapists), but they know intuitively that something in their home is off. They sense that ‘uncle so-and-so’ shouldn’t be with mommy after school, they know when dad takes too long with the babysitter, they know that dinner is supposed to be with both parents and that mommy and daddy sleep in the same bed when there’s been a history of doing so. They notice and pick up on the vibe, the arguments, disappointment, drinking, use of drugs and abuse. With divorce, we owe our children some semblance of truth catered to the age and developmental stage they’re in.  

They may be old souls and be able to commiserate and provide comfort but then they’re forced into the role of parent (News flash: this is where a divorce coach can be hugely helpful. Your child needs you to be their parent, and you may need support.) And children definitely, 100% need help in healing and dealing with their first (or second, or third) divorce. Children are not ever too young to experience divorce. It colors their lives, their relationships with future lovers, their interpretation of monogamy and commitment and the institution of marriage, even their own self-esteem.

Divorce is a generational disease and our children need professional help, support groups, counseling,

and lots and lots of love.

What they don’t need is to be alienated from one of their parents unless there’s a history of physical or emotional abuse, and even then, children can have guardians present when visiting. Courts do not want to become involved with needy and angry parents using children as a bargaining chip, weapon or pawn. The bullying parent or attorney doing so desperately needs help themselves. When a parent uses a child, the child knows it, feels it and will side with the most sane parent… parental alienation (pitting a child against the other parent or in-laws) never works.

Let them be with the other parent, experience the financial disparities, the level of emotionality and the physical differences in lifestyle, attitude, the things they do, the people they spend their time with. Trust that kids will use each parent for the things the parent is manipulating them with. So, if mom has more money and is willing to buy them, then kids will use mom for the things they want. If dad takes great vacations, then kids will ask for vacations with dad. When mom is belittling and mean, they won’t want to see her. If dad has a weird girlfriend… surprise! The kids don’t want to visit.

Kids are not stupid…

 they manipulate their married parents, why not their divorced ones?

When parental alienation occurs, it may seem like the other side is winning; you may have years of painful silence and want to correct your child’s seeming ignorance but over time, trust that the truth will come out. It may take decades (remember when you learned who your parents really were… that was about 35 - 45 years old right?). Develop trust in your kids, trust in the truth.

Trust in yourself to hold the high ground


Over time children grow into their futures the same way divorcing forces you to grow into yours... totally separate from your ex, with your own boundaries and rules. Be the parent who parents, and your kids will feel safe, loved and respected. Be the parent doing their own work and healing and growing and your kids will witness you and (over time) learn to respect you, articulate what they knew all along and come around to seeing the truth. There are three sides to every story, and your child’s experience of divorce is valid, real and critically important.

Laura Bonarrigo

New York, NY