How Divorce Affects Children & Teens: Parents Need Realistic Expectations!

How Divorce Affects Children & Teens: Parents Need Realistic Expectations!

By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC

Parenting is always complex. Parenting following a divorce can add many other layers of distraction and confusion to the mix. That makes it even more important for parents to be aware of how their children are responding to the divorce.

Misunderstanding Your Child’s Intentions

One common error parents make is misunderstanding the stage of development their children are at which can lead to unrealistic expectations. Too often parents will assume that their child has a realistic handle on their emotions. They also believe the child has a deeper understanding of human nature than is really possible at their age. So when their child acts out, expresses anger or otherwise misbehaves, many parents misconstrue their intentions.

Parents don’t fully grasp the fear and insecurity that divorce brings up in children. They mistakenly see these young beings as little adults who bring adult reasoning and comprehension to life experiences.

With that mindset, it’s easy to get disappointed when your child’s behavior doesn’t live up to your expectations. Or when they lash out at you for turning their lives upside down.

When divorce enters the family dynamic we often forget that our children are processing their feelings with limited skills and emotional awareness. We all know that divorce can become an enormous challenge for adults. Imagine the ramifications on youngsters – as well as for teens!

Give Your Kids a Break

How unfair (and unrealistic) is it to expect your children to fully understand what Mom and Dad are going through — and then respond with compassion?

Emotional maturity doesn’t fully develop until well into our twenties. Yet divorced parents frequently put the burden on their children to be empathic, understanding and disciplined in their behavior when parents themselves struggle with accessing that level of maturity.

Misunderstanding Our Teens

Parents are often especially misguided in their expectation about teens. By nature, teenagers are very self-absorbed. They don’t yet have the full capacity to put others’ needs ahead of their own. In addition, most teens are not very future focused … nor are they motivated by lectures about consequences.

Part of the parenting process is to role model positive behavior and to demonstrate the advantages of setting goals, planning ahead for the future, etc. Unrealistic parental expectations can lead to needless conflict with our teens. Losing the support from their parents can easily result in a sense of confusion, insecurity, guilt or shame within their fragile psyches.

Why get angry at your teen for not displaying adult maturity at a time when your own maturity may certainly be at question?

By understanding your children’s stages of emotional development as they grow, you are less likely to make the common mistakes parents make when coping with divorce:

  • Confiding adult information your kids can’t psychologically handle
  • Expecting kids to play the role of your mediator, therapist, or parent
  • Asking your child to take sides and reject their other parent
  • Turning your kids into your personal messenger or spy

As a parent, make sure you have reasonable expectations for your children. Don’t be disappointed when your child behaves as the child they still are!

Co-Parenting Guidebook Supports Parents

For information about how divorce affects children at different ages, how to skillfully communicate with your former spouse after divorce, successful co-parenting strategies and more – check out my digital guidebook: Parenting Beyond Divorce – Making Life Better For Your & Your Children. Learn more at:

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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She is also author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free articles, Coaching services and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to:

© Rosalind Sedacca  All rights reserved.


Overcoming Guilt about the Divorce

Overcoming Guilt about the Divorce

Paul Wanio, PhD, LMFT

Sometimes, an obstacle to listening to one’s child is the fear that we will hear something that will produce sadness, anger or guilt in us.  It may also be difficult to listen to negative comments or complaints because of feeling the need to be the “perfect parent” and not wanting to hear that we are causing anymore discomfort to our child.  There can also be times when your child will see everything that you do as wrong and everything that the other parent does as right.  This can easily lead a parent to feeling overly sensitive and defensive.      

These emotional situations become obstacles only if you overreact due to taking your child’s comments too personally, assume that you cannot handle the situation, assume that you are a “bad” parent or that you cannot make mistakes.  Having faith in your abilities as a parent, allowing yourself to make mistakes, being less critical of yourself and taking time to think things through will change obstacles into manageable challenges.      

     To meet these challenges, keep the following in mind:

   []  You’re not perfect, and that’s OK.

   []  You will make mistakes even when doing your best.  

   []  Divorce is like a death and sometimes the only thing that you can
       do is to just be there for your child and understand.  That’s all.

   []  Your child’s negative comments may simply be an expression of 
       distress and not criticism.

   []  Your child’s blaming of you may be a defense against feeling 
       overwhelmed and not meant against you personally — it is
       merely a young child’s way of coping.   

   []  Change never happens as quickly as any of us want.  Acceptance 
       and patience will do much to help you through this time.

   []  Listen to your child, even when what you hear is hard to accept.  
       Problems can only be dealt with if allowed to be out in the open.  
       It is that which is hidden that causes most of the trouble.

   []  Distress is less traumatic when met with love.

   []  One incident will rarely cause trauma.  It is the overall feeling, 
       relationship and track record you have with your child that makes 
       the difference.

   []  Keep things in perspective and you will not be overwhelmed.  You 
        can handle most any one situation simply because it is just that – 
        one situation.  There are few things that you will face that cannot be
        fixed, handled and lived with.  (After all, look at what you’ve managed 
        to handle so far!).

   []  Tomorrow is another day.

By keeping these ideas in the back of your mind, you will be able to temporarily put aside your own feelings at the proper time and stay focused upon the feelings of your child.  This will not only benefit your child, but will contribute to your own self-esteem and coping skills.  This kind of self-discipline will keep you focused and feeling in control of your life.

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C. Paul Wanio, PhD, LMFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Lake Worth and Boca Raton, FL. He can be reached at He is also a contributor to the new ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook™ Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! by Rosalind Sedacca, CCT. To learn more, go to For additional articles on child-centered divorce, visit