Divorce of the parents brings on hidden stress, compacted within coParents and children alike. We are all trying our hardest to be strong and in most cases, hide the truth and pain from others.
For this reason, it is imperative to watch ourselves as coParents. The way we act, speak and most importantly, the tone of our voice, impacts our children today and for the rest of their lives.
Katrina Miller, MD, is a family physician and chief of Medical Informatics at LA Care Health Plan. She offered insight into why we have increased stress in this day and age and why we need to keep an eye on it.
“It is interesting because I don’t think that a lot of people are well equipped to deal with stress these days, as compared to older generations,” Miller said. “In other generations, we went war and so people were more accustomed to more stress and learning how to deal with it. Now people say, ‘Well, at least it’s not war.’ Then, it’s almost as if the stress of divorce doesn’t matter as much, when it does. Now, coParents and their kids think, ‘Okay, I can handle this on my own, without any help and I need to step it up and take care of everyone.'”
Once the child thinks that they need to care for themselves and perhaps a sibling, while mom and dad are fighting all the time, they automatically shut down their inner child, play less and assume a parental role. They feel as if they need to be their own parent and mature too fast and skip over essential stages of childhood development.
“A child of divorce feels as if they have to mature a lot faster because they are dealing with immature parents,” Miller added. “It’s almost like the child is thinking, ‘Okay, they can’t handle themselves, they are doing what they are going to do and I need to take care of myself and my younger sibling. I need to excel in school, even though my parents are falling apart, going crazy and melting down.'”
As a family physician, Miller sees a large amount of children of divorce arrive to her office exceedingly mature for their age. They have to. In order to keep themselves and their siblings afloat. They are hiding stress and pain deep down, burying the child that needs to play and have fun and just be a kid. This is how they limit their stress, by going into overdrive, caring for everyone else.
“With larger families, you see the older child who takes care of everyone, the middle child who retreats and the younger child who is the princess and feels like everyone should take care of them,” Miller said. “The older child grows up too fast. Loses the stage of learning through play.”
This information sheds light (again) on the importance of coParents keeping their relationship child-centric. Keeping conversations civil and at calming, low tones in front of the child, in order to avoid additional stress.
Most importantly, coParents need to remember to let their kids be kids. Keep playing. Get outdoors. Find activities they love. Support them. Enjoy watching them be kids. Continue to stay strong and be the parent.
Here is a great story for coParents written by Miller.