"In needing the attention and maintenance that a child entails in their development, there is a sense of innocence in offering that, which offers comfort, especially for a parent is experience or has experienced divorce."
For children, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize the signs when a parent is mentally or emotionally struggling with an issue. They may appear to put on a brave face and modify their appearance to reflect the positive attitude they wish to emanate for the sake of their children.
However, when the parent is divorced, a child can sometimes find themselves offering a level of emotional support and wellness unbeknownst to even themselves.
In needing the attention and maintenance that a child entails in their development, there is a sense of innocence in offering that, which offers comfort, especially for a parent is experience or has experienced divorce. Fathers who have gone through the emotions of the divorce experience may need the structure and routine of providing a daily, functional environment and a sense of normalcy for their children, and in doing that, they are comforted.
There are countless stories about fathers who have been there for their children, and in doing so, they were able to recover and move forward in their own lives, after their divorces. ABC News highlighted a recent story about Tom Sullivan of Tacoma, Washington, who peeled his daughter’s oranges for her school lunch every day.
Tom said that it was an occurrence that began following his divorce and that it was a simple way to show Meg, his daughter, that he was taking the time to do something for her. He wanted her to know that he always will be there.
On Meg’s last day of high school, he placed two unpeeled oranges in her backpack, along with a printed-out Wiki page, detailing how to peel an orange. He also wrote “It’s time, baby girl.”
After Meg posted the story, it went viral. She has felt a mix of emotions, as she heads to college; missing her father while excited for her future.
Bonds and roles
In small acts of kindness, Tom was able to foster a bond with his child. Many parents can find healing in that bond. In a similar respect, a child’s development can be positively affected by the bond, as well. Developmental psychology studies at Vanderbilt University found that the emotional involvement of parents matters and can affect the outcome of a child’s emotional competence and regulation.
At the same time, it is important to maintain the roles of a child and a parent. Many parents, including fathers, can find themselves treating their child similar to their best friend or spouse. They can find themselves meeting their parent’s needs, and according to Psychology Today, it is understandable why it would occur, given the need for homeostasis within the familial dynamic.
Beware the ‘burden’
However, asking a child to maintain the role of an adult is a heavy task for someone who has yet to experience life or develop the coping mechanisms necessary to sustain the persona. Those using their child to get their emotional needs met may not realize the harm that they are doing to their children and their long-term development.
As much as a child may wish to be “dad’s caretaker,” it is too important for children to experience childhood, rather than being thrusted into an adulthood that they are not prepared for. Even when parents divorce, it can feel like the children need to step up and accept a level of responsibility that they feel they need to accept. Some of that stems from the idea that children of divorce can often have, where they feel responsible on some level for the ending of the marriage. Thus, this is what they view as their way of making up for it.
Parents need to be able to explain to their children that they are not the reason why they are no longer together. Because of custody and proximity, it may only be one parent explaining it or one parent at a time, but it needs to occur.
Be a Dad
While fathers may be asked to provide the financial support necessary to maintain a child’s life, it is not their only, nor most important responsibility. It is up to them to be a dad. Create the structure necessary to facilitate your child’s growth and development on a physical, emotional, and mental level. Follow the parenting plan and custody agreement, so you can maintain a consistent and positive place in their life.
In following this structure and being there for your child, you are taking care of yourself and getting to a more emotionally healthier place moving forward in your own life.