All feelings can be contagious. I have had cases with one parent who is overwhelmingly distressed by sadness about the divorce – even a year after the parents have separated.
Sometimes the sad parent is the mother and sometimes the father. They aren’t openly angry. They’re tearful – constantly tearful. When I see this, I can generally predict that sooner or later one parent will say that the children or oldest child no longer wants to spend time with the other parent. These are parents who want the children to visit, but feel helpless to make it happen.
One woman described her parents’ divorce several decades earlier. She said that her father was devastated and depressed. When she would spend weekends with him, she absorbed his sadness and felt really distressed. Then, when she went back to her mother’s house, where she primarily resided, she remembers being very angry with her mother about how her dad felt. “I told her it was all her fault!” She doesn’t remember much about those days, but decades after their divorce she still remembers how her father was sad and depressed.
Remember that emotions are contagious. Make your best efforts not to expose your child to your intense anger, fear, hurt, sadness and other negative emotions about the other parent – even about an HCP parent. When you do (because no one’s perfect), make positive comments about the other parent to keep things balanced. Avoid believing that feelings are decisions. If your child is anxious, remind him or her that feelings are not harmful and reduce with time. This is part of resilience.
Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Published by HCI Press