By Brian Nadon
How do we protect a child’s “authentic” voice to ensure they are heard? And how can we guide families towards being joyful, healthy, and functional during or after a divorce? In a recent study on children’s assessments of their parent’s break up, children usually receive little to no support during the separation and were not given adequate explanations of “what is happening to their family.”
It’s even questionable whether parents can communicate a child’s views and interests during the divorce and manage disputes that erupt through this tumultuous time. Parents, because they are in the midst of pain and turmoil themselves, are unable to attend to their children’s best interests and in many cases ignore the child’s perspective.
This is why the inclusion of a child’s “authentic” voice aids in shaping what is best for the child and supports the creation of a strong, happy, divorced family. Sounds like a “win-win” opportunity! Maybe?
Children and young people should have a chance to express their views, feelings, wishes, and even to have their opinions taken seriously, on any decisions that affect them. Children also have the right not to express an opinion. Children need to know that the final decision is not their task and that whatever happens may or may not be what they were hoping for as the end-result.
Like any one of us at any age or maturity level, children and their views can be influenced by others. If you accept a child’s or anyone’s feelings without considering what they may have been affected by, you will make serious mistakes. And, if you don’t take mental manipulation of parents into account, you can add even more harm to an already stressed out and emotionally damaged child. This harm can be caused by well-meaning parents and helping professionals who think they’re doing the child a favour.
So how are we best to understand what children need and what a particular child thinks and feels about a family issue that their parents disagree about? One of the key messages from research is that children want to be involved in decisions that affect them. It is essential to listen to children, and young people to make sure they all have an “authentic” voice to share about their family situation and to ensure the messages are taken into account. Most separating parents – on their own can manage to do that even while they are entangled in challenging processes. In those families, the children are likely to be confident of their emotional state and satisfied that their parents will listen and explain while the adults make good plans after separating.
Children of any age by definition are not yet mature in their thinking and understanding. So they are even more likely to be influenced by their close family around them, dependent as they are on those primary attachments. If that’s true of some most straightforward separation conflict situations, then it behoves me to mention, at every opportunity a child’s “authentic” voice needs to be heard and adequately considered.
Ultimately over communicating, in the end, will allow a child’s “authentic” voice to develop and grow. Please don’t become selfish during a separation or divorce involving children. It’s at this point your true colours as a parent will be revealed.