Attaching Intelligently During and After Divorce

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

Although Howard Gardner (2006) is not an attachment theorist, his theory of Multiple Intelligence indicates nine different types of intellect that are useful to anyone wishing to engage with their child. This article and the two that follow will look at the different types of Intellect as they may apply to three different topics: Divorce, Separation Anxiety and Peer Pressure.

The concept of Multiple Intellects can be useful for everyone. There are a number of internet resources regarding Multiple Intelligence Surveys. Some are designed for adults, some for children.

Divorce creates a fault line in a family. Fault-finding is a difficulty within a broken relationship. Finger pointing is not well-received. We often grow angry, bitter and weary. If we can prevent this, we may assuage traumatic experiences in ourselves and our loved ones. Maybe even flip them on their head and find the silver lining.


Our children want to have positive emotions, whether they show it or not. It is our responsibility to bring it out of them. They deal with their emotions every time they interact. This give and take provides for much of their understanding of life’s expectations.

What are your expectations? Get your disappointments out of the way. Give up control. Now, how do you expect your child to be built into a thriving young adult? Talk about it…every day. For example, “I expect you to be kind and honest.” Consider what gets in the way. Set an example by bonding in lovely ways. Educate yourself on aspects of circumstances that you have yet to understand (i.e. developmental tasks, misbehavior, risks that impact your child, etc.)


What a conflict, for your little one to want his or her parents to be together. It is so natural, and right, it is offensive in a way that must feel lonely inside…or just blue. Make room for your child’s emotions: let your guilt become melancholy enough for healthy expressions of remorse. Consider you child a little baby bird. They have yet to even grow feathers. Much less be expected to fly away from the expectation of a comfy home. So, whatever it takes! For example: “I’ll call you every day and hear you tell me you are disappointed, if you need to…because I want to hear your heart.” Seek peace with your ex-spouse with humility, thereby owning at least half of this difficulty. Look for wisdom with the people who care about you and your child.


The way I see it is words ‘bite’ or ‘breathe.’ Words can be picturesque or challenging. Concepts can hurt or heal. How do we talk to our children about divorce? First, watch out that you do not dismiss or patronize their feelings. Listening and setting boundaries will help them through. A feeling is like a rain drop; it may quench or cause a flood. Quenching is when we think of our children’s needs objectively and make changes as needed. Quenching is focusing on the positive when we speak, but not evading the truth. Quenching is protecting from additional difficulty. Flooding is only thinking of our needs, speaking negatively and harshly, and adding to trauma.

When at a loss, read a story. When overly excited, share with a friend before time with your child. When aggravated, think practically and make plans. ‘Everything Will Be Alright’ should be most every child’s theme song. If it is not, are you owning the problem or asking your child to bear a difficulty that you are ignoring. Whole- hearted considerations are better than demands. Boundaries are better than bite. Whose reason-is-more-blessed is more-often-than-not the decision winner, even if it seems personally unjust.


Does everything seem far away in the heart of a child that is not with one or the other parent. Is their concept of difficulty dramatic? Are they at a loss in a way that hurts emotively? They have learned object relations. They have seen things go. It made sense. But, this doesn’t. At times they are compelled to make it okay. But, it’s not their job to do so, it is too weighty of a consideration. They need to connect even if one isn’t present, at least in their meta-cognitions. Which I think should be put at ease, if at all possible. More on this in their teens years (their go-away closer years...).

Playing helps: What toys do they cling to? Puppet play is a great healer. My daughter and I have a monkey from McDonalds. That is our forever friend. He is unconditional, cool and humble.

Family traditions are also imperative to try to maintain: My daughter’s dad took my daughter to a restaurant every Tuesday. Although, I loathed it I maintained the tradition. It even built into our lives two solid friendships.

I believe these activities make it less likely that my daughter will grow embittered toward me.

How does your child make sense of the missing parent? Involve yourself in their healing. Look for credible ways to give them bits of credit. I like to use Eriksen’s developmental tasks to consider how one parent or the other may be apt to build their child’s specific confidence during that developmental time (1980).


Your child needs to see you. Often, they make evident what they need in their drawings. It is neat to look into the work your child is doing in art to see if there is a storyline to follow. Let it minister to your heart. “Read it,” even when there are no pictures. Your child’s little world is full, but not without you. That may be obvious, but this is symbiosis. They love to connect with us, even meta-cognitively.

They have hurt, draw a Ven diagram. Brainstorm to see where you should own difficulty (Dinkmeyer et al., 1997) and where the child does, see where the overlay is and conversate about it. Then we get to train them to become more than what happened, to believe in the very thing they wanted.

Which is a complete life for everyone without the guilt of separation.


Children need physical affection; appropriate amounts of cuddles, tumble play, and dance or exercise. Keep in mind, that our child’s temperament may be the temperament of the person we divorced. They may have your temperament, which will be familiar and relatable. Or their temperament’s make-up could be the other parent’s, which may present challenges. Your child is designed as who they are with reason: they should learn to contend with their temperament better than we can eventually. Don’t over-reason, wait and trust that there are ways of connecting peacefully and with your parenting authority, in tact.

When our children live away from us, they crave to be with us. There is evidence that indicates that children are less likely to seek inappropriate physical contact later in life if they have appropriate contact throughout their formative years.

Can you help them simmer their strong emotions when they engage in rough and tumble play? It is so important to tune into our children’s emotive patterns. Emotional vocabulary is helpful (Dinkmeyer, et al., 1997) Children have to express themselves without questioning their inward experience to be more focused and even determined. (In my opinion, this sums up the need for MISP).


Sometimes emotions are inarticulate. Playing instruments can bring healing in a non-verbal way; a shared time at a piano, a drum or a horn is a child‘s dream come true. If your words make excuses and puppet play really isn’t your thing, music may find a way to connect your hearts and/or heads. If you find yourself wanting to make excuses, try consuming music. I love bringing healing to my daughter through this medium. Too many words may clutter a peaceful consideration that wants to linger (Elmsäter & Hetu, 2007).

Instrumentation does the speaking from the heart, somewhat like creating a character with puppet play. It lets loose the heart (or maybe your head, existentially) and may heal aspects of your dynamic, if you let it.


It is hard to make sense of mommy and daddy not being together. If most of the day at school is based on logical thought, there may remain pondering of ‘why’ the one system they need is not together. We, children of divorce, feel guilty, but it is not fair. What a difference it makes to help your child reason through their circumstance until they can at least experience emotive resolve. Seek advice, get input, pray.

Maslow’s work is clear: We all have emotions, mentality, physicality and spirituality. But, to care for another requires us to think about all they have too. I believe, my ex-husband is better, for the time, at physical and mental discipline. He is practical with clever anecdotes regarding appropriate developmental considerations (i.e. like the batman cough, or the warm salt water gargle). It’s not that he is better, but that he is diligent in passing on his strengths to his offspring. I am better spiritually and emotionally during our daughter’s current developmental task "industry vs. inferiority" (Erikson, 1980). I love using emotional vocabulary and building our lives with church friends, events, and creative play.

So, together we build her effectively. On topics like the best interest of our child we need objectivity to not perpetuate subjective difficulty. We are very grateful when we have agreement and even better, cooperation regarding these topics.


A neat desire is to have family. The suffering experienced from having two homes can often be minimized. First, acknowledge your child spiritually-desires you as his or her parent. They want your theories, your why’s. I always ask my daughter, “You know why I love you?” And then say, “Because there is no ‘y’ or 'why' in love.” It doesn’t truly make sense, but it makes us sit quietly together and enjoy being mommy and daughter without need to talk.

We have also made up a game in which we list everything we can think of that we love less than one another. She’ll say, “mommy, I love you more than….” We think of things we absolutely adore…the best things we can think of (i.e. chocolate, rainbows, amusement parks). We challenge one another…it’s endearing.

Children want their hearts to be ‘known’ by you. Our hearts are tricky. We need to build trust-worthy learning experiences.

We have long-term dreams to build together. We have far-reaching hopes to cultivate in our doings. We have relationships to establish that shape us. We are in this together.

Their plight and ours is unique and shared.

Divorce becomes a ‘thing’ or ‘event’ to ponder too intensely later on in life, if we don’t do the front-end work. Building healing into our efforts has the type of prevention that far out ways a cure! Happy building!


Dinkmeyer, D. Sr., McKay, G., & Dinkmeyer, D., Jr. (1997). The Parent's Handbook. STEP Publishers, LLC.

Dinkmeyer, D. Sr., McKay, G., & Dinkmeyer, D. Jr. (1997). Parenting Young Children. STEP Publishers, LLC.

Elmsäter, M. & Hetu, S. (2007). as represented by Ur Publication & Programmes, Inc.

Erikson, E. (1980). Identity and the Life Cycle. W.W. Norton & Company.

Gardner, H. (2007). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Basic Books.

22 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All