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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Divorce: Five Mistakes Made by Divorced Parents.

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 16th 2009

 This is related to previous article, "Politics of divorce, when children become pawns" that can be found at the following URL:


Webmed magazine ran an interesting article on how parents can avoid making errors that hurt children when a divorce occurs. This is important because those errors can cause damage that lasts into adulthood. Following is a list and explanation of those five errors made by divorced parents and how to avoid making them. This list comes from family and divorce expert M. Gary Neuman, LMHC. Years of experience in private practice allows me to lend support to all five of these. According to Neuman:

1. Do not use your child as a messenger between you and your ex spouse:

"Too many parents attempt to communicate through their children, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation their own parents could not handle," says Neuman.

2. Do not use your children as your therapist.

"Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their worlds upside down," Neuman says. "Don't fall into the trap of sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex with your older kids. I have known of too many situations where that occurs. In fact, I have even known parents who share their sexual problems with their children.  When a divorced parent shares the gory details with their children, their anxiety and confusion increases.

3. Do not criticize your ex spouse to the children.

"Kids need to feel as if they are understood," says Neuman, and after a divorce their feelings may in turmoil. "Listen to them. Don't tell them what to think. And it might be difficult, but never criticize your ex -- it's a criticism of your child, who of course is 50% of your ex-husband or wife."
This is something that too many divorced parents fail to understand as a result of their feelings of anger towards the ex spouse.

4. Avoid the "third degree" when the child returns from a visit with their father or mother.

"I tell parents to treat their child's weekend away with their ex-spouse as if the child has just visited an aunt or uncle," advises Neuman. "Saying nothing will leave your child stressed, as if he must compartmentalize both worlds and tiptoe around this other experience. On the other hand, grilling the child puts him squarely in the middle, which is an impossible position emotionally. So ask your kid fun and general questions, which diffuses tension. And then let it go." Here too, parents have a tendency for pump their children for information about how they were treated in a search for information about possible abuse. A lot of this has more to do with vengeance than anything else.

5. Repair the damage you've already done.

Many divorced parents reading these tips may recognize mistakes they've unintentionally made with their own kids. Is it ever too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty split? "No, children are remarkably forgiving, says Neuman. "At least until they reach their later teen years, when anger may be more cemented. If you've made mistakes, it's important to do the following:

Apologize to them because "saying you're sorry" goes a long way with your kids. Explain in detail exactly what you did wrong, and then commit to changing your behavior from that moment on."

No two divorce situations are identical and many divorced people experience frustrated and angry feelings of hurt and betrayal. It is common for people to demonize their former spouse and attempt to propagandize the children into their way of thinking. However, this is a short sighted way of thinking that does not take into consideration the emotional well being of the child and future adult.

It is always wise, when over ridden with these frustrated and vengeful feelings to enter psychotherapy and learn healthier ways to cope than manipulating the children.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

I agree - - Sep 7th 2009

I am a fifteen year old who's mam and dad have just divorced. My parents think they are doing nothing wrong but they have/are doing everything that has been mentioned in 'Divorce: Five Mistakes Made by Divorced Parents. ' However, i feel that if i tell my parents that they are doing these things wrong they will have a go at me. I have no idea what to do because their divorce has affacted me very badly.

Need advice - John Millard - May 4th 2009

My children are angry with me for getting a divorce. My ex was in an adulterous relationship and told me that I should file for divorce. She continued with this for six months. Each time she told me to file I refused. I requested we go to marriage counseling because I wanted to know why she had said nothing over the previous five years of "feeling the marriage was wrong". She went to the initial meeting and then never returned. The final time I refused to file she laughed at me and told me it would not matter who filed and she had her lawyer write up papers that stated "she has agreed to your request for a divorce" . This wording preceded the usual rhetoric about how I had to get a lawyer or risk losing all contact with my children. My lawyer told me that yes, I had no choice but to get divorced because no judge would grant the father custody when his children were 7 and 4 (circa 1997). I lost everything, the great relationship with my children, particularly my eldest son whom I spent all my free time with along with my first wife. I also lost my house (which represented all my money since I spent all of the earned income on my wife for 8 years). I had to forfeit on the loan from my father to get that house. Basically I had to start all over again. In doing so I gave up my career as a chef which I had diligently worked on for 12 years so that I could spend more time with my children. Long and short is that over the years of research, sacrifice and struggle I have come to understand more about both my first wife and my parents. I believe my father as well as my first wife suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. My eldest son, now 19 is most affected by the manipulations of his mother as well as mistakes I have made over the years in dealing with this. I have apologized for talking in anger during an incident where my ex was keeping them from me for a long scheduled event. I have been instructed to take the approach of asking "Why does it make sense to you that I got a divorce". I assume when my son says "got" he believes it to be an action verb as in he believes I wanted and filed for a divorce. So far my son has made comments like "You Did Not Have To Get A Divorce!!" followed by flight out of the room. I have yet to ask him the recommend question since I feel that it is better to wait until he brings up the subject and is emotionally strong enough to stay in the room. He is in college now and works very hard and does well with studies but the light in his eyes has not been seen by me since he was about 5. I never wanted a divorce. I wanted my wife to give up her boyfriend and to work on the marriage but it seems once I got the house for her she no longer needed me except for income via child support which was crippling to me for the first 7 years or so. I was told that there could be psychological tests done and a report sent to a judge but that in Pennsylvania the judge would still make the final decision and I was not confident that a judge would give me custody of my children being that my ex is the niece of a Federal Judge (I do not believe this judge would intervene but just the existence of this relative seems not good for me). I was also told that these tests would cost about $5,000 and I have not had that kind of money. Now, in a second marriage I thought I would look into possible avenues to help my children break free from their mother's manipulations. It took me until I was almost 40 to gain a clear insight into the way my father continually abandoned me for his own amusement and I would be most happy if my children do not have to spend as much time finding the truth in their own lives. I am happily married and a my wife and I own a business and have a great life. My youngest son comes over 3 times a week and we have a decent relationship but it is clear to me that he is cautious about what he says. He is less affected then the elder son however. I still worry about his emotional and psychological development. We are adopting a little girl from Guatemala and that does not seem to negatively affect my sons but I am not privy to how their mother spins this. There is much more to this story as I am sure you realize. Is there anything I can do that is more concrete then to rely on a judge in a system of divorce which seemed clear to me to be similar to our governments war on drugs in it's hypocrisy and greed for money. (I was told that if I wanted any money out of the equity of the house that it would cost me the same amount of money. I was also told "No Violence!" when I told my lawyer of my then wife's conditional death threat based on me taking her children away from her and her being drunk when she said it). I was shocked that this behavior seemed to have no affect on the lawyer but to raise the flag of warning me about my possible actions which I never thought to take. Lacking confidence in the system and still fearful for my children in PA Thank you for your time John Millard

Avoiding criticism - R. McCraw - Mar 4th 2009

I would like to add that it is possible to go too far in avoiding criticism of the other parent, especially if s/he is actually abusive. It's important to reinforce that overtly abusive behavior is not OK. If nobody will talk about incidents the child has witnessed, the child may feel like the only one seeing this behavior; therefore, crazy and/or responsible for it.

Perhaps "avoid bitterness while talking about the other parent" would be another way of stating this. 

Children and divorce resource... - AntonioFWW - Feb 17th 2009

This is a great starting point.  Here is a wonderful resource from the do's and don'ts of dealing with divorce and children.  Check it out:

Thanks for 5 Mistakes Advice - Rosalind Sedacca - Feb 17th 2009

Neuman's 5 Mistakes advice is excellent. It is what I emphasize repeatedly in my Child-Centered Divorce ezine and blog posts.

My own experience more than a decade ago led to my writing a guidebook for parents on how to create a storybook with family photos and history as a successful way to have the tough break-the-news conversation. I’m recognized as The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce and my new book is How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a- StorybookGuide to Preparing Your Children -- With Love! What makes the book unique is that I don’t just tell parents what to say. I provide customizable templates to say it for them!

Therapists, attorneys, mediators, educators and other professionals around the world have endorsed the book, attesting to the value of my fill-in-the-blanks, age-appropriate templates. Six therapists contribute their expertise to the book, as well.

My goal is for divorcing couples to stop, talk and create a plan before having that crucial "divorce" talk with their children. I hope, for the sake of their kids, they will decide to move ahead in creating a child-centered divorce. For free articles, ezine and other valuable resources on this topic, visit

Best wishes,
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

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