Helping Children To Find An Integrated Identity After Divorce

When I’m working with divorced families, one of my goals is to help parents and children to retain, find, or redefine their own identities. All of the family members should be able to see themselves as being surrounded by their own circle of identity, even when they engage with other people.

Unfortunately, kids in divorcing families are often put into a situation where they are urged to feel more empathy for one parent over another. Or, they are put in the position of trying to figure out what the reality of the situation is, and feel pushed into deciding whose side to be on or who they should love. This can cause them distress as they try to figure out who they are in their new life circumstances.

There’s a short Pixar clip that I like to show to the children I work with and to their families/parents. The story is about a boy setting out to do a job with his father and grandfather. The two adults have their own way of doing things, and each one tries to show the boy how to do things “the right way”. Rather than choose to follow exactly how one or the other wears his hat, or which tool they use to accomplish their task, the boy, who obviously cares for both adults, finds his own way of doing things. He decides to wear his hat differently than either role model, and finds the best way that works for him to accomplish the task at hand. It symbolizes how children can learn to take attributes from each person who is helping to raise them, and integrate variations of them into their own identity and way of doing things. It demonstrates that a child can completely individuate himself/herself by evaluating the good and bad in all family members, and choosing for himself/herself what to integrate into their own personality.

When a parent is going through a divorce, and the kids are trying to find their identities while the parent is simultaneously reaching for a redefined identity, it’s important for the parent to remind the children that like the boy in the clip, they have to “wear their hat” in the way that is comfortable for them. As I work with divorcing families, it is my hope that the parents allow their children to love both parents, and that they don’t suffocate them with any expectations, guilt, or other emotional burdens. I know this can be difficult because so often one parent feels like things are unfair. But we live in an imperfect world, and parents need to grapple with the unfairness without pressuring their children.

For more information on this subject, please visit my webpages on Family, Parent Coaching, and Co-Parenting, or contact me directly.

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