When a family is disrupted by divorce, it’s common for children to experience feelings of anger, frustration and sadness. Some children, though, resort to blame in order to cope with the new family situation, and refuse to speak to one or both parents as a result. “When a child behaves this way, it’s often because they blame you for the divorce,” says Melody Brooke, a family therapist in Richardson, Texas. Parents can combat the blame game by fostering open communication with their children who are coping with divorce.
Even though your children may be giving you the cold shoulder, it’s important to stay involved in their lives and continue to show them that you care about them. Attend school events, send cards and notes, continue to call even if they won’t speak to you, and include them in all family activities, says Brooke. “The only thing you can do is continue to love and support them and be there for them even when they don’t want you to be,” she says.
An angry child needs time and support to work through these feelings. A teen who understands the complexity of relationships may feel betrayed by one or both parents during a divorce. Encourage your child to talk through these feelings with you, a trusted friend or family member or even a professional counselor. Taking the steps necessary to open the lines of communication, even if it isn't with you, shows that you view her feelings as valid.
Keep in Contact
Every boy and girl needs a mother and a father, so it's imperative that both parents stay in close contact with children after a divorce, even if they refuse to speak to you. “Do not allow your child not to have contact with one parent,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent.” “It is destructive to the child to have zero contact with a parent.”
If the child is resisting contact with one or both parents, Walfish recommends contact with reasonable boundaries or even supervised visits. “Both parents must give permission and enforce contact with both parents,” says Walfish. “The courts decide on custody, so the only time not to allow contact is in the case of child abuse, and in those situations, the court assigns a monitor to supervise visits.”
When the family split is fueled by negativity and hostility, children often shift the blame to one parent and sometimes try to cease contact. Even if your child doesn't want to speak to your ex-spouse or even you, resist the urge to fuel the blame game.
"Often, the parent who is not rejected by the child knowingly, or unknowingly, colludes with the child by saying bad things about the rejected parent,” says Walfish. “The child feels an alliance and protectiveness toward the jilted parent.” This behavior only adds fuel to the fire and can disrupt the relationship he or she needs to have with one or both parents.