Divorce Guilt, Do You Have It?


Divorce Guilt can be a crippling and terrifying experience.

During the separation process, you may be struggling to redefine your relationship with your former partner as well as helping your child cope with the separation of the family.  Your struggle is probably magnified by anger, pain and guilt.  Parenting through and after divorce is often characterized by tough choices that can cause guilt and regret in many separated parents.

Feelings of guilt emerge when you examine what you might have done to cause the divorce or what you did to disrupt your children’s lives.  Your thoughts may start with the phrase, “If only I …”  You may have recited the common refrain,  “If only I made the marriage work”, or “If only I had more time and patience to help my children cope with the changes in the family.”  

D. A. Wolf, in the article, “Single Parent Guilt,” in the Huffington Post wrote that she thinks of guilt as a “moral compass that guides us soundly, and lets us know when we need to adjust course.”  When used as an instructive tool she believes guilt reminds us to pay attention and change our behavior.

Two challenges associated with divorce that often lead to guilt are:

Finances:  Money places different demands on your relationship with your children.   You may lack the knowledge regarding how to financially support yourself and your child during this trying time.  Managing a tighter budget, you often have to spend money on things that go unnoticed by your children.  You may feel guilty at not being able to buy expensive gifts and treats or pay for summer camp.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our children need our presence, not our presents.” Children need their parents’ time, love, and energy.  Receiving quality attention from their parents is often more important than any expensive gifts, entertainment, vacations or treats. Therefore, take advantage of every moment. Create memorable moments with your beloved children.

Discipline:   Divorce often creates changes in a child’s behavior.  These behavioral changes come at a time when you may be in so much personal pain that you unintentionally neglect your child’s needs.  Some parents feel so much guilt and anxiety for their children that they become overindulgent and lose the ability to provide continued structure and support.  It is crucial that children receive support as they cope with the separation of the family.  Children make a better adjustment if at least one parent can provide their child extra support and guidance during this unsettling time.  Parents need to provide continued discipline, support and routine in order to create a stable environment.  

There are many difficult changes to make in order to reduce problems for both you and your children.  You will feel guilty from time to time.  What you chose to do with your guilt is critical.   You have the power to make positive changes that will benefit your children.  Rather than wallow in guilt and blame yourself, you can make a commitment to create a “guilt-free zone” in your household.    Manage each difficult situation in the best  possible way while providing the security and stability your children need in order to thrive. 


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About Ann Marie Termini

Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC is co-founder and director of the Cooperative Parenting Institute in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. She has worked with children and families since 1979. Ann Marie has co-authored several books including Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: 8-Week group program for separating parents, Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting, The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High Conflict Divorce: Strategies and Techniques and Crossroads. Respected in their field, Ann Marie has conducted numerous seminars on the international and national levels. She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination.

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