Guilt Can Surface in Parenting After Divorce


  • Guilt can contribute to parenting behaviors after a divorce.
  • Guilt can adversely affect your relationship with your children.
  • Seeking support for emotional issues can leave you better prepared as a parent moving forward.

Whether it is where to send a child to school or what to pack for their lunch, as parents, actions have consequences. This cause and effect reaction can spark fruitful outcomes of health, learning and discipline, but also can lead children down a bad path. It all depends on the action itself.

These actions can be motivated by the feelings of the given parent and their perspective on their child’s life. These types of parents can often find themselves questioning how they are doing and what they have done to adversely affect their child. Are they doing a good job? How can they improve? What actions have they taken in their own life that has adversely affected their child?

For many parents, they can feel guilty over their divorce and how it has upended their child’s life. They feel as though because of their actions as a spouse or their spouses’ actions in the same role, it has adversely affected their child’s development and has sparked the need to overcompensate, regardless of which parent or spouse was responsible for the ending of the relationship.

Recognizing guilt

According to Ann Smith of Psychology Today, guilt arises when we become aware of the notion that we, as parents, are failing to be the best we could have been for our children. If it is not faced, it can turn into shame and a negative sense of self, which becomes less than helpful for the children that you are responsible for.

For divorced parents, they can find themselves susceptible to this lower sense of self, in how they view their role. Many parents believe that being a parent is the greatest job that one can possibly have, and when they have upended their child’s life through divorce, and possibly do not see them every day due to custody situations, they can find themselves feeling like they are failing at their purpose in life.

The guilt of that type of perceived failure can be overwhelming. Many parents find themselves feeling like because of the custody schedules, they simply are not there for their children often enough. This can have a spiraling effect.

Overcompensation in parenting

By not being there for their children enough, they can feel the need to overcompensate and become Disneyland parents, a noncustodial parent who indulges his or her child with gifts or good times during visitation and leaves most or all disciplinary responsibilities to the other parent, according to USLegal.

With all of that time spent attempting to impress their child with gifts or experiences, many parents who feel guilty do not necessarily take the time to listen to their child. They do not necessarily talk to their child, as much as talk at their child, and their child’s response does not always register into the final decision of what they are doing. This type of behavior also does not create a bond based on people, but rather, based on material possessions or fun experiences.

While that may sound like an intriguing relationship that could result in your child’s immediate affection, it is fleeting and can result in your child to expect these gifts and these experiences on a regular basis. The minute that those end could spell the end of that level of affection and the return of the guilt.

Expectations of role models

Many parents who experience guilt due to their divorce worry about being a bad role model for their child. They feel that their child might emulate their parents’ experiences as a couple in their own future relationships. They try to piece themselves together and create the image of a better future for themselves, in an effort to assuage their child.

However, they often create this image without sorting through their own feelings regarding the breakup. This type of behavior does not necessarily help the child in question and can result in additional guilt, if the emotional journey of the divorce experience is not met with a healthy resolution.

Tightened grip and competitive parenting

Guilt also can cause one’s grip on their child to tighten, especially if the parent in question has custody. They can find themselves trying to make sense of the chaos of the divorce experience by attempting to control their child’s life, according to The Huffington Post.

This type of control can extend to when the noncustodial parent is with the child. They can find themselves enforcing rules and guidelines from afar, in an attempt to make sense of being away from their child. They also can find themselves exhibiting this type of behavior, in an attempt to spite their co-parent and set precedents, regarding their child’s relationship with their noncustodial parent and its functionality.

Much of this is an example of competitive parenting. Co-parents can often find themselves feeling the same level of guilt over the end of their marriage and allow those emotions to motivate their decisions, in an effort to outdo one another. This can cause a parent to spend dangerous amounts of money on their children, in an effort to gain a perceived advantage over their co-parent. This can have a damaging effect on your child’s perception of money and can set dangerous precedents.

Seeking support

Guilt is an understandable emotion to possess during the divorce process. Feeling bad about a relationship’s inability to function is a common feeling that individuals go through during the divorce process. As a parent, you try your best not to display those types of feelings in front of your children, but those feelings can surface, creating the need to take time to sort them out.

Seeking support is nothing to be ashamed about. The idea of asking for help to sort through the emotional anguish of the divorce experience may appear to some as weak, but there is nothing weak about knowing that you need help during a difficult experience in your life. For men, the antiquated idea of masculinity involving an inability to ask for help creates a toxic atmosphere that does not promote the health and wellness necessary to emotionally process a divorce.

Guilt may appear to be impossible to overcome, but it is not a life sentence. Compassion, time, and communication all can be healing components to overcoming this sense of awareness of what has ended. With these components and the passage of time, a child’s relationship with their parent can recover and continue to grow, and a parent’s relationship with their child will no longer be defined by the ghosts of an unhappy marriage.

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