While we usually think of the parent comforting the child and trying to ensure they are happy and healthy, children often think they also have some sort of responsibility to their parents and not upsetting them. This can be a good thing if you want your child not to misbehave, but when it comes to the emotional effects of a divorce, it can backfire. In this article, we tackle some of the top reasons your child may be afraid to make you sad and provide some tips on how to ensure that your child feels like they can talk to you without worrying about how you might feel.
Many children are worried if they express their feelings or emotions that they might upset or hurt their parents, and this can lead to them internalizing those emotions and even creating false connections in their heads such as “It’s my fault they got divorced.” To be able to challenge those connections, it’s important to be aware of what your child may be thinking. Here are a few common reasons your child may be afraid to make you sad.
Children often feel like they are betraying one parent or having to choose between the two if they want to spend time with the other parent. This can come up in situations like wanting to go shopping with one parent instead of the other or even just the regular custody schedule. Your child may be afraid that if they show that they are happy to spend time with the other parent that you will think they don’t love you just as much.
While it’s not 100 percent necessary for your child to be ecstatic about your new partner for it to work out, it can make things more difficult if they don’t get along. However, if you don’t know that your child doesn’t like your new partner, you won’t even have the opportunity to address any issues, personality clashes or misunderstandings. Your child may be afraid that if they don’t like your new partner that you will have to choose between them, and they may be afraid that you love your new boyfriend or girlfriend more than them.
As children get older, they tend to have more of a social life and may have plans or things that they want to do when it’s time to go over to the other parent’s house. An example of this might be a birthday sleepover that is scheduled for the noncustodial parent’s weekend. Your child may be worried that you will be upset or think that they don’t love you or want to spend time with you because they want to go to the party instead.
Divorce and the separation of the family is a big change, and it’s one that takes a lot of processing for kids and adults alike. However, it’s common that adults get to actually do that processing through talking to friends or family, joining support groups or talking to a therapist, but children are often left to their own thoughts. Your child may be afraid to make you sad if they want to talk about happy memories from when the parents were still together or show that they are sad that it didn’t work out.
Single parents are superheros. They do everything and have to work in and fill multiple roles around the house and in their children’s lives. After a while, it becomes second nature to just handle everything yourself, especially when it comes to your children. However, your child may also want to get help from the other parent sometimes, whether it’s advice on how to talk to their crush or whether they should try out for varsity. Your child may be afraid to make you sad or make you feel like you’re not enough if they want to get specific help from the other parent.
In coparenting situations where the parents are able to be civil and even friendly and get along, it’s usually not an issue for both parents to attend a function for the child. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t always the case. If the relationship between the two parents is bad, it can be very stressful for the child to have everyone show up at a performance or game. They may not know where to look in the audience or who to go to first after it’s over, and they may also be worried that the parents will get into an argument in front of their friends and peers. Your child may be afraid that you will be sad or get your feelings hurt if they ask you not to come to a function so that they don’t have to split their time or deal with the stress.
The good news is that for most parents, once they hear these reasons, they immediately think, “Oh, but that’s not true at all!” And letting your child know that these things won’t upset you or hurt you or make you sad is an important step in ensuring that they aren’t blaming themselves or carrying more emotional burden than they should be. It’s also important in keeping the lines of communication open and making your child feel like it’s safe to come to you with their issues and problems. Here are a few strategies that can help.
First and foremost, make it a point to tell your child that you love them and love them unconditionally as much as possible. When they have that strong basis of love, there will be less fear that there is something they can do or say to you that would shake that love. Children don’t have the life experience or maturity to understand the depth of parental love or that while you may not like how they are acting, their choices or some decisions they make it doesn’t change how you feel about them or how much you love them at all.
While it’s always good for children to understand that parents are humans too and sometimes they feel stressed or upset or angry, your child isn’t your therapist or best friend and shouldn’t be treated like it. Children pick up on every little cue, and even a sarcastic comment here and there can make your child more afraid of upsetting you or making you sad. While it’s perfectly normal to feel sad or upset if your child doesn’t want to come to your house or would rather the other parent come to “bring your parent to school day,” it’s best to keep that to private adult conversations and continue to show your child positivity and support.
It can be very difficult for children to be able to share their emotions and fears. They often don’t have the experience or vocabulary to understand those feelings, let alone articulate them. And even older children and teenagers may act out or do other things instead of sharing how they feel. One way to help things along is to ask questions and open the door for them to share. Instead of waiting for your child to say that they are worried about your new partner, maybe ask something along the lines of, “So-and-so’s been coming around a lot more. How do you think things are going?” Resist the urge to defend yourself or your partner and really just focus on hearing your child and validating those feelings. If there are things you need to address or explain, try to leave it for another conversation so that your child doesn’t associate that with them telling you how they felt.
Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, and unfortunately, those challenges don’t stop once the paperwork is finalized. Understanding that your child may have fears and emotions you’re not aware of and giving them an open, safe place to express those feelings without judgement can help everyone more forward as healthily as possible.
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