The 5 Best Ways Parents Can Help Their Daughter Cope with Divorce
By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
While divorce can be problematic for all children, it poses unique challenges for girls. Most studies report that girls tend to adjust better than boys immediately following divorce.
However, several experts, such as Judith Wallerstein, have written about a “Sleeper Effect” – a delayed reaction which can trigger negative emotions and wounded trust in early adult years. As they venture out on their own and make decisions about love and commitment, daughters of divorce may feel pessimistic about love, choose partners who are all wrong for them, and become preoccupied with the fear that their relationships will not succeed.
On the whole, children crave stability, and a girl’s desire for authentic connection is strong. The failure of a marriage falls outside of a child’s day to day experience. When compared to their male counterparts, daughters of divorce are more sensitive to this disruption. Often, a girl may feel her parents’ divorce is due to what she perceives as some defect on her part. When her family is broken, she feels broken. As a result, it’s important for parents and stepparents to model good communication, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. This is ultimately for the good of any children involved.
As a parent, it’s crucial to recognize that intimate relationships may be hard for your daughter because she didn’t have a template of a healthy, intact marriage to follow. On the other hand, E.M. Hetherington, a leading authority on divorce, points out that a successful remarriage can counteract some of the negative impact of parental divorce. Keep in mind that a girl’s relationship with her father and stepfather can help her grow into adulthood with confidence in her ability to love and be loved, providing a counterbalance to any negative impact.
In an effort to find out more about the unique vulnerabilities that girls face after parental divorce, my daughter Tracy and I interviewed 126 women raised in divided homes. Penny, a beautiful, out-going twenty-something woman, acknowledges she had a delayed reaction to her parents’ breakup: “As a young child, I was a people pleaser and didn’t react much to my dad leaving – but it hit me like a vengeance when I was in college – I got really angry at my dad and didn’t speak to him for a few years.” Consequently, Penny endured relationships rife with infidelity and emotional abuse, because she lacked awareness and a positive male role model.
How can you help your daughter overcome the loss she experienced in childhood and move forward with an optimistic view of love and marriage? The following strategies can help your daughter cope:
- Help your daughter overcome the loss she experienced in childhood by creating a safe atmosphere for her to grieve and discuss her feelings.
- Don’t bad mouth your ex-spouse as this will only promote loyalty conflicts and make it more difficult for her to heal.
- Be sensitive to the fact that your divorce can have a negative impact on your daughter’s self-esteem – find ways to encourage her to build self-worth.
- Attempt to help your daughter repair any father-daughter wounds.
- Don’t let cynicism, sadness, or anger get in the way of your daughter’s future. If you have negative views of relationships don’t pass them to her.
In closing, while daughters of divorce possess unique vulnerabilities, they are also armed with signature strengths such as resilience and self-reliance. With greater awareness, they can learn to recognize the forces that shape them and build healthy relationships. Experiencing divorce as children can make women more careful about whom they choose for partners as adults. Daughters of divorce understand the fragility of love, but maintain a respect for its sacred place in their lives.
Bio- Terry Gaspard is a licensed clinical social worker, college instructor, and non-fiction writer, specializing in divorce, women’s issues, children, and families. She wrote Love We Can Be Sure Of: How Daughters of Divorce Can Build Love, Trust, and Intimacy with her daughter Tracy Clifford based on their research findings. They are both daughters of divorce and Terry has been happily remarried for 15 years. Their book inspired www.movingpastdivorce.com as a way for adults to move past divorce to a place of greater happiness and peace. They offer a bi-weekly enewsletter, blogs, and other resources to promote healing and successful relationships.