"For children, picking up signals and the nuances of emotional relationships is not something they know how to do very well. For them, the world has been pretty clear-cut, and they do not necessarily know how to navigate the awkward discomfort of a custody exchange, mixed in with polite conversation.
Divorce is already a little bit of a confusing concept for children to grasp. One minute, a child had two parents who loved and cared about one another and lived in the same house. They were all one, big, happy family, who ate meals together, went on vacations, and helped with homework.
Then one day, that was no longer the case.
During a divorce, children have to adjust to the new aspects of their life. They’re going to have two homes, two rooms, two wardrobes, two sets of toys, and basically two lives, as their parents go their separate ways. While it is difficult to grasp the idea that these two individuals splitting are their parents, being away is an easy concept to grasp. Depending on their age, a child’s concept of distance can vary, so it is difficult to gauge their understanding before custody and visitation schedules are put into practice.
Once they’ve experienced the custody and visitation schedule for a time, they begin to understand what it means for two people to put distance between each other. Then, the conceptual problem for the parents becomes making sure your child understands the difference between two people who dislike each other and two people who have to be civil and co-exist for their child’s sake. That can be tricky.
Nuances of civility
The problem often stems from children misinterpreting the nuances of civility with two people who are being nice to one another. They might believe that their parents still love one another and will get back together. They see it as an opportunity for one big happy family to be reunited and together once again. With two parents that actually get along and are friends, despite being ex-spouses, there’s very little chance that a young child would understand the situation.
That level of confusion comes from a place where children wish to see their parents together. Often times, children will find it to be their responsibility to reunite their parents. The difficulty of grasping the concept is not out of malice. It is out of inexperience. For children, picking up signals and the nuances of emotional relationships is not something they know how to do very well. For them, the world has been pretty clear-cut, and they do not necessarily know how to navigate the awkward discomfort of a custody exchange, mixed in with polite conversation.
The confusion can manifest itself in attempting to get both of their parents to spend as much time together as possible. This can be as simple as prolonging the custody exchange in an effort to spark conversation between the two parents, or it can be as complex as inviting the other parent to a social function without the knowledge or consent of the other parent.
Understanding social cues
Social cues are often misread by children for various reasons, but one of the main one’s that tend to get brought up is the lack of attention they pay to individual situations. According to Understood, an educational parenting resource, there are ways of teaching your child the social cues necessary to navigate situations they might otherwise misread.
One of the main points to bring up when attempting to teach a child social cues is understanding that they should not project their own feelings regarding their co-parent onto their child. As much feelings and history are involved, it’s important to remember that this individual is your child’s parent, just as much as you are. Let your child form their own opinion.
Respecting their wishes
Another aspect of this to consider is the idea that this is your child’s wish. Their life has been jerked around back and forth between houses, so for them, they consider any level of civility or borderline-friendship between their parents as an act of the parents respecting the wishes of the child. For them, the world still revolves around them, so it becomes difficult to grasp their wishes not being acknowledged. It’s not even about a child being told yes or no, but for the possibility to not even be considered between two constants in their life, it can be an early taste of what the concept of rejection feels like.
The impact of this sentiment should not have any lasting consequences, but do not expect one failed attempt to reunite their parents to be the end of the road, for your child. They can very easily try again, and while there is no virtual chance in them succeeding, it could be a healthy exercise in sitting them down and explaining why a reunion is not in the cards. The child needs to be reminded of how important they are in your separate lives, and while you, as parents, will always be in each other’s’ lives, it is as co-parents and nothing more.
While this reassurance will assuage them for the time being, they may never stop pining for their ideal family dynamic. They still may have lingering feelings that cannot be changed, and that’s common. There are many instances where children of divorce secretly hope for their parents to reunite, even when the child is in their 30s or 40s. Wishing for a reunion isn’t assigned to a young age, but maintaining those boundaries during their young ages to avoid confusion could be a beneficial tactic until social cues are learned and understood.