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Re: effects of divorce on my 4 yr old

Posted By Mandy on August 08, 1999 at 22:14:43
My husband left me and our 2 boys, 4 1/2 and 16 months, without any warning about 6 weeks ago. I've been reading as much as I can and have spoken briefly with a counselor about how I can best help my boys through this, but I'm having some difficulites with Jake (my 4 yr old). My husband lives nearby and sees the boys about 4 times a week and sometimes calls on the days he's not here. I have been very supportive of their relationship and never say anything bad about his father to him. Jake is having a lot of trouble saying goodbye to people now, his father as well as other people like his grandparents. He gets very upset whenever people have to go home. Any tips on handling this?
Also, he's been turning on me to some extent. Since his dad left, I've had a lot more to do around the house (I'm a stay at home mom). I don't have as much time to spend with Jake as before. When other people come over (his dad, grandparents, etc) they come to play or spend time with him. So all they do is fun stuff. Now Jake has been asking to go live with his grandma or dad. He thinks that these other people can just play with him all the time and he won't have to help out at all by cleaning up his toys, etc, even though I and my mom have explained otherwise. I know some of this is probably normal, but it hurts me a lot to be the one doing so much for him only to have him resent me for being a "normal" parent. He seems more and more fixated on being with people other than me since I'm not as fun. Any advice on this? Will he outgrow this or will his resentment of me grow? Any other advice on talking to a child his age about separating parents? He doesn't seem comfortable talking about it very often and when he does bring it up, it's only for a minute. How much contact should he ideally have with his dad at this point? What about overnight visits? Thanks for any help. Mandy

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Posted By HVMA Ph.D.- KDK on August 09, 1999 at 09:39:52
Dear Mandy,
You've raised a number of important issues. I can't cover all the bases about this important topic, but will try to address a few of your concerns.
When young children experience a sudden loss or separation, they often become sensitive to other separations, such as comings and goings, and become hesitant in a way they did not before. If you are patient and supportive and understanding with your son, he will gradually become comfortable again with leavetakings.
Try not to take his prefernce for being with the people who are providing him with fun in a personal way. You are doing what you can in a difficult situation, trying to manage a lot of things. It's to your credit that you are enlisting the help of relatives in this difficult time. As parents, it's inevitable that it hurts to some degree when our children seem to prefer the company of others. But this is not unusual for such a young child. If you regard his behavior as a personal rejection of you, you'll likely feel angry and resentful. But don't take it personally. And he's too young to understand that you've got to 'take care of business' - remember, four-year-olds are basically self-centered and pleasure seeking by nature. He's just doing what four-year-olds do. I'm sure you're trying to carve out a little recreational time with the kids yoursef - this can go a long way.
Relative to frequency of contact with father, there's no ideal frequency. What's more important than frequency is that the plan be structured and predictable, not casual and 'drop-in' by nature. It's important that your children know when, and under what circumstances, they will see their father. It's probably too early for an overnight stay right now. Depending how things proceed with you and your husband, that can come later.
A very good resource is Richard Gardner's Parents Book About Divorce (also, you might look at The Boys And Girls Book About Divorce, also by Gardner). These will highlight the salient issues about separation and divorce, and offer practical guidance about how to deal with some of the issues).
Also, you can always consult with a child mental health clinician about how to manage your situation. In my clinical practice I see many parents and children to help them through separation and divorce as a way to prevent problems from developing. Children can survive their parents' divorce, as long as it's managed in a sensible way.
The information in this forum is intended for purposes of general education. Always address particular questions about your child's health to your pediatrician or health care professionals.
*Keyword: Separation, Divoce

Follow Ups:

effects of divorce on my 4 yr old Mandy 8/11/1999

Re: effects of divorce on my 4 yr old HVMA Ph.D. - KDK 8/14/1999

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