Kids, divorce, and self-blame

Or we could call it, I Caused the Divorce, I Know I Did

It's so funny how starting to write on one topic MAKES the next one happen sometimes. Yes, I know, it's totally random, but still.

So today's post is for everyone.

A kid came into the office today. We talked about what it was like when her parents got divorced and I remembered the Ultimate Self-Blame Guilt Trip. DIVORCE.

They all think they caused it-- kids, that is. It goes something like this.

Kid is aware that parents are fighting a lot. At some point, usually while looking at the parents, praying no one is going to get hurt, one parent says, Well, YOU should have put away YOUR toys. If YOU had, then Daddy (Mommy) wouldn't be so mad.

Or: Parent TELLS kid a secret, like perhaps that he/she has a boyfriend who is really nice. It doesn't matter if the kid tells the other parent. In kid's heart, when the parents get divorced, it's because one or the other thinks he did. Kid screwed it all up somehow.

Even if there's absolutely no reason to rationally think your kid is self-blaming, you HAVE to check this one out if you're going through a divorce. You HAVE to tell your kids that they did nothing to cause the dissolution of the marriage.

A child thinking that he or she is responsible for the breakup or the marital problems in the family underlies untold, massive, huge numbers of depressive disorders in children and adolescents.

It's one heavy guilt trip that can be prevented with simple clarification. TALK TO YOUR KIDS. FIND OUT WHAT THEY'RE THINKING.

Parents rarely tell their children the real truth behind their divorce, and sometimes that's okay(I have a lot to say on this, usually that it's not). It is NOT okay to allow children to take the responsibility for the breakup. Not ever.

Copyright 2006, Therapy Doc


jen said…
You say this:
Parents rarely tell their children the real truth behind their divorce, and sometimes that's okay(I have a lot to say on this, usually that it's not). It is NOT okay to allow children to take the responsibility for the breakup. Not ever.

Got an article somewhere on it i can read? I am separating - kids are 13 and 16 - we talk a lot and have tried to encourage them to maintain their 'love' of dad even though I have finally decided to pull out of the relationship which is essnetially destroying me - I don't blame him totally - I am responsible for being 'passive' and trying to be superwoman - but I'd appreciate advice on how to help the kids through it. Thanks
TherapyDoc said…
Boy, I wish I could link you to something. I pretty much owe you more since I said there's so much to say and didn't say it.

Until I do that, though, hunt around on the Internet. Surprisingly, there really are some good, erudite journal articles that don't require a university log-in. Of course, if you've got that, you're golden. If you have a kid in college, use his/her log-in to the data bases and search your heart out.

Gimme a little more time :)
I'll write more, too.
Robyn Howisey said…
There's a good book out called "Why did you have to get a divorce - and when can I get a hamster? A guide to Parenting Through Divorce" by Anthony Wolf. I think its a great starting place for parents going through divorce that covers a wide range of topics in both how to handle situations/talk with kids about them, and from the kid's perspecitve what they are probably thinking (aka -it's all my fault).
therapydoc said…
Thanks, Robyn. I'll look for it.
Anonymous said…
I'm divorced now with two elementary school age children who in my view right now are too young to know the "real truth" behind my divorce. But I tend to lean toward thinking some day they are entitled to know. They ask me already pretty regularly why it happened (I've emphasized they absolutely are not to blame), and they clearly find the rather basic answers i give them unsatisfying. But I'm torn, because truth in lending, the "real truth" includes some of my worst moments. It's not exactly thrilling to contemplate how they might react to the real truth, when that day likely comes. If you have time to elaborate on your view on why it's usually better to give them the whole truth, I'd be interested. I find your posts very insightful as a rule.
therapydoc said…
To know a person, usually, is to love them. That's why. We're all human, we all make mistakes, and we learn from them.

I'd suggest doing this with the help of a therapist, someone who can see that the timing and and what you say is going to be good for the kids. Thanks for reading.
therapysites said…
Kids suffer a lot when their parents separate. Usually, they were thrown with the blame, just to cover up their shortcomings. But, if this would be the case, expect that as the kids grow, they will get used to blaming themselves. But for many, they considered their kids' emotions as very fragile, thus breaking up the news with the most care as possible. Whichever the case would be, still, the pain will still linger.
This is really true. Several kids whose parents get divorced think that maybe it was their fault that the marriage ended. Some parents may or may not do it on purpose but they certainly blame their kids or may do things that would keep the child thinking it was his or her own doing. May this post be a reminder for all that it is never right to blame kids for a divorce or a breakup. Thank you for sharing.