Divorce: Don’t forget the children

The estranged parents of Hollywood star Lindsay Lohan have been told "not to make disparaging comments" about each other in the presence of their children. It’s a comment which will be recognised by warring parents worldwide. When you’ve fallen out, just how do you try and remain civil for the children?

You may not get on with each other, but don't punish your children because of it...

Hollywood star Lindsay Lohan has been hitting the headlines a lot recently – and not for the best of reasons. But her parents have also been having a difficult time, including an unpleasant divorce case.
This week, Lohan’s parents, Michael and Dina, were criticised by the judge hearing their family case. The couple were told “not to make disparaging comments in the presence of the children,” Lindsay’s two younger siblings. The judge may have been referring to this specific case, but it’s a comment which will be recognised by estranged parents worldwide. When you’ve fallen out, just how do you try and remain civil for the children?


Don't make the children take sides

“Children want to be secure and do not like their parents being criticised,” says Dr Jack Boyle, a psychologist who specialises in children and divorce. “They hate being caught up in parental quarrels, especially when each parent tries to get them on ‘their’ side.
“Some children can become anxious and aggressive, even towards each other, because they may have sided with different parents. Above all, what parents need to do is think what the children want.”

Divorce can be unpleasant and acrimonious. For the children, it is often incredibly sad too. They will find it hard to cope with the thought of their family changing forever, and of being separated from one of their parents. And as those parents, it’s your duty to think of the children, and to try and act in a mature way.
“You need to separate parenting issues from the issues concerning the two of you as a couple,” says Paula Hall, a counsellor for Relate. “You can explain to them, for example, that while Mummy and Daddy’s relationship is not okay, Daddy is still their parent and a good one.”
It’s important to try and keep emotions in check. No parent is perfect. And before you denigrate your husband to his children, for example, remember that they are half his. Children know about their genetic make-up. If one of their parents is criticised too harshly, that may make them lose confidence too.

Tips for keeping things as smooth as possible…

  • Do not discuss or criticise each other in front of the children.
  • Do be polite to each other. 
  • Do acknowledge each other when you meet up. Shake hands or invite your estranged partner into the hall, rather than leave him or her outside in the rain. 
  • Don’t make cracks about your ex-partner’s new girlfriend or boyfriend. 
  • Don’t use your children as “spies” to find out about the other parent. 
  • Do be aware of possible changes in behaviour when it comes to your child.


It’s better for the children to continue to have a relationship with Mum and Dad

“Children may begin to feel that if Mummy doesn’t like Daddy anymore perhaps they shouldn’t either,” says Paula Hall. “You don’t want to make it harder for them to continue that relationship, or force them to make a choice. What’s definitely true is that the children who fare best are the ones able to maintain a relationship with both parents. Sometimes you need to sit on your feelings.”

Related links

  • Single Parents – Take Back Control Single parenthood can be a tightrope walk - a balance between the workplace, domestic life and the needs of children prone to act out when there’s no dad or mum at home. But there are some simple tips to help the family live happily in a hectic world.
  • Tips for Step-parents Forming a bond with a stepchild can be tough. Supernanny member Claire Thomas has this useful advice – learnt through personal experience!

Find out more

  • Partnership for Children has a  useful section on divorce and separation 
  • Relate offers advice, relationship counselling, sex therapy, workshops, mediation, consultations and support face-to-face, by phone and through its website
  • Helping Children Cope with Divorce By Edward Teyber. Teaches divorcing parents what they can do to help their children successfully adjust to divorce.

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