Anger and the Divorced Parent

Expert Author Susan Leigh

Divorce is frequently a disruptive and unsettling experience. Even couples who have agreed that breaking up is the best option for all concerned still find themselves surprised at the level of emotion that surfaces at times throughout the process. When children are involved the situation can become even more fraught. Either parent can find themselves feeling angry, exasperated and distressed at times.

Let’s look at ways to cope with anger at being a divorced parent:

– Even the most amicable of divorces can cause both parties to feel distressed. There may be anger at the enforced changes, frustration at having to start again, distress at feeling let down and betrayed, annoyance at the part they played in the breakdown of their marriage. One way to support the children at this time is to present a united front and tell them about the divorce together. It helps introduce domestic changes in a more positive way and avoids one parent being perceived in a negative or unfortunate light. The changes are then seen as a joint decision which helps children to better understand what is happening.

– Children are sensitive to atmosphere and may fear that they played some part in the divorce. They may feel that they were naughty, caused their parents to argue, were responsible for stressful situations at home. It is best to contain anger towards your ex in front of the children. Reassure them that they are not to blame, both parents love them and will remain in their lives. Provide an opportunity for children to ask questions and talk about their feelings with either or both parents whenever they feel the need.

– Access can be a problem area. The mother is usually granted custodial responsibility. Organizing access for the father can be a headache, especially as children get older. They often have interests and commitments of their own that need to be accommodated. Arranging access visits for a father who may be seen as undeserving can be annoying, especially if he is inflexible or the children are reluctant to sacrifice their other interests. Both parents can end up having angry exchanges over how the children choose to spend their time. Or an angry parent may decide to make access difficult for the non-custodial parent. She may feel that he doesn’t deserve to see the children, is a bad parent, a distressing influence. It is important to remember that the issues that precipitated the divorce are rarely anything to do with the children. They usually still need both parents in their lives.

– Behaviour after divorce can be an issue whilst the children readjust. It is useful for both parents to agree ground rules from the outset, about bed time, discipline, treats, food, though it is not always possible. Agreeing to share information can ease their children’s transition to the new arrangements; their timetable, requirements for school, homework, sports kit, after school activities. Anger can sometimes mean it’s tempting to make things difficult, especially at first. Being vengeful often ends up hurting the children. Working together to establish new routines helps them to settle.

– Children may return home from an access visit laden with expensive gifts or unsettled after having eaten differently than normal, over-tired from lack of sleep, over-excited or moody. Agreeing in advance a balanced approach can provide consistency between their regular home life and their intermittent time with father. But a father may regard his time with the children as an opportunity to compensate them for his limited presence in their lives, a time to show that he’s fun and still a significant part of their lives. Anger can occur when the mother feels that she’s being increasingly portrayed as dull or a killjoy.

– Grandparents may be seen as taking sides but, with a little tact and consideration, they can provide a neutral, familiar ground for children to feel safe and maybe see their estranged parent. Children are often aware of their parents hurt and anger. There may be things that they want to say or ask, but don’t for fear of appearing disloyal or causing additional distress. A grandparent may be ideally placed to provide wise, calm support, answers to questions and the reassurance that a child often needs at this time.

– Money can be a difficult subject with the custodial parent usually having less money than the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent, usually the mother, may be struggling to pay bills, be unable to work in her original career, have little access to childcare and feel angry and frustrated by her situation. She may see her ex as living a fun, bachelor life with little responsibility, an amazing social life and limited interest in his children. Conversely, he may feel depressed at leaving his home and family, be living in an impersonal apartment, with little desire to return home each night after work.

Parents need to remember that their children are the innocent participants in their divorce. They may have valid reasons to be angry with each other but being mindful to put those reasons to one side when they are considering the welfare of their children allows for the impact of their divorce to be kept to a minimum.

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