I was divorced about four years ago and have recently begun dating a kind gentleman who has two children. My two kids, Kevin and Elisabeth, are twelve and fifteen. Kevin seems to be making a better adjustment to my divorce than Elizabeth and he spends most weekends at his dad’s house. Elizabeth doesn’t usually want to go to her dads and she doesn’t particularly like her stepmom who is new in her life. She was close to her dad when she was young, so I’m hoping she’ll change her mind and go soon.
I try to encourage Elisabeth to visit her dad but she blames him for the divorce since he got remarried two years afterwards. I’ve told her that he didn’t leave us for Maria, her stepmom, but she doesn’t really seem to believe me. Our divorce was brewing for years and had more to do with us being opposites and arguing a lot. My ex-husband and I get along okay and we believe our kids will eventually adjust.
Elizabeth has good grades in school and a few close friends so I haven’t pushed her to go to counseling but I do worry that my divorce is having a bad effect on how she sees marriage and her self-esteem seems a little lower. Lately, I catch her saying negative things about herself. We’re also had more problems getting along recently and she questions what I ask her to do sometimes and spends more time in her room.
You seem to have good instincts about your children and a great understanding of Elizabeth’s complex relationship with her dad and stepmother. Since 75% of divorced parents remarry and most within four years after divorce, your situation is common. Many children of divorce can benefit from counseling and/or a support group and you can contact Elizabeth’s counselor at school for local referrals.
That being said, many daughters of divorce have trust issues and some self-esteem concerns – at least for a while – because girls tend to blame themselves for their parents’ divorce and identify with their mother who they perceive as being left by their dad. They often see their stepmom as a rival and feel displaced. These concerns usually lesson over time and counseling might help Elizabeth work through these issues and hopefully regain trust and to develop a closer bond with her father.
Nearly one third of all daughters have parents who are divorced in America, and most of them reside with their mothers after the breakup. Some studies show that the mother-daughter relationship becomes more intense after divorce due to proximity and amount of time spent together. Psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington studied 1,400 divorced families over a period of thirty years. She considered the connection between mothers and daughters to be a protective factor after divorce. After extensive examination, Hetherington concluded that preadolescent girls develop close supportive relationships with their mothers but that this shifts during adolescence when there is more upheaval in their lives.
In For Better or for Worse, she writes “In adolescence, there is a notable increase in conflict in these relationships, particularly between early maturing daughters and their mothers.” She concludes, “In addition, divorced mothers and their adult daughters are closer than divorced mothers and sons, and sons feel somewhat closer than daughters to their fathers.”
Giving Elizabeth messages such as “Both your dad and I made mistakes in our marriage, but we both love you” will help your daughter to avoid loyalty conflicts and will strengthen her connection with both of you.
Another point made by Nielsen that I discovered in my own research, is that daughters are more negatively impacted by parental conflict than sons post-divorce. Specifically, high parental conflict before and after divorce, was associated with lowered self-esteem for daughters, more so than sons, in my study. Daughters also have a tendency to take it personally if their father is absent or inconsistent in his contacts – or remarries quickly after a divorce.
Here are some strategies to help your daughter bounce back from divorce:
Explain the separation or divorce. The overall theme of this discussion is to tell your daughter about your divorce in a clear and blameless manner, and make sure she knows that your love for her will remain the same and what aspects of her life are likely to change.
- Explain that the divorce is not their fault. This is a crucial message that needs to be repeated over and over again. Even if your daughter says she know it isn’t, most kids will succumb to these thoughts during times when they feel vulnerable or are dealing with transitions or stress.
- Explain it will take time for her feel better and that you will be there to support her.
- Keep the door open for further discussion. Kids have an uncanny ability to avoid serious discussions when their parents want to talk, so make sure she knows you’re waiting in the wings when she feels like chatting.
- Allow your child age appropriate decisions, responsibility, and independence. Don’t rely on her too heavily for household chores, but do set realistic expectations that she will help out.
- Gain a support system for yourself and your daughter and make sure you’ve built in a safety net. Keep your eye on your daughter’s adjustment and look for red flags such as excessive fatigue, sleep problems, drop in grades, using or abusing drugs or alcohol, extreme shifts in mood, or a tendency to isolate from family or friends.
Most importantly, keep in mind that you can model resilience and optimism and that most daughters of divorce make a good adjustment after a few years. Please visit my blog for more advice on this topic.
Follow Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy A Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry