John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

psychological distress divorce

On not making your kids your confidant during a divorce

Divorce is stressful. No one doubts this. For many people it’s one of the more stressful events they’ll face in their adults lives. And naturally, people need to talk about it--or rather, process it. But who do they talk to?

Recently I came across a study in the psychological literature that examined the effects of parental disclosure on children when the parents are either in process of divorcing, or have divorced. In other words, mom or dad venting to a child about their frustrations, financials worries, distress, or complaints about their separated or former partner. Parents are most apt to do this when their children are teenagers and seemingly more able to engage in adult discussions. What the study found, however, was that this practice was potentially damaging to children. Turning children into confidants increased the chances that the children would develop adjustments problems later in life.

Why? Because when children are given this type of negative information there is nothing they can do with it. Typically they have little or no control over the situation. Parental disclosures become a form of stress.

So this is where I throw in a plug for therapy. If you happen to find yourself going through a divorce, and, like most everybody who experiences this process, you find yourself flooded with anger, hurt, sadness, or guilt, try not to pour your negative emotions into your kids. They are not the right containers. Talk to a therapist instead.