Your divorce can have a positive, negative, or neutral effect upon your children. You have control of which it will be and it is largely dependent on how you and your spouse handle yourselves during the divorce and through the years of co-parenting that lay ahead. Therapists who work primarily with children agree that the primary source of behavioral problems involving children of divorce result from ongoing animosity between the parents.
The Collaborative process for divorce offers more than a kinder, gentler way to transition out of a marriage. The Collaborative process offers each party the opportunity to learn about themselves, gain insight into their marriage and how their children have been affected by the existing family dynamic.
The opportunity exists within the process to simultaneously learn to improve your communication with spouse and learn patterns of behavior which could greatly improve your children’s lives as kids of divorce.
The following lists are offered to provide you an overview the patterns of behavior that will assist your children through this difficult time.
Useful Tips for Helping Your Children More Effectively Deal With Divorce.
1. Listen to your children.
2. Reassure your children that you will be available to them.
3. Show your children, through your actions, that you are trustworthy.
4. Reassure your children that they will continue to have a relationship with both parents.
5. Continue to set limits and discipline your children, as structure is helpful to them.
6. Encourage children to express their feelings (including sadness, loss, hurt, anger, guilt, helplessness, or fear) even if what they say is hard to bear.
7. Encourage children to express their opinions.
8. Demonstrate your love on a daily basis.
9. Explain changes in concrete terms. Show them where each parent will live, reassure them that there will be enough food, and money. Don’t bother them with the details, refrain from sharing concerns about finances or residence with them.
10. Communicate with the other parent about children’s issues.
11. Develop a workable parenting plan.
12. Help children adapt to both of their homes, e.g. toothbrush, clothes, toys, books, at both homes.
13. Keep both parents involved.
14. Keep children out of the middle.
Predictors of a Good Divorce
Your ability to meet these criteria will largely determine how the divorce plays out for you and your family.
• Never bad-mouth the other parent in front of your children; they identify with both of you and feel like they are part Mom and part Dad. Badmouthing the other parent will only alienate your children, from themselves as well as the parent.
• Quick resolution of conflict is best. Try not to fight in front of the children.
• Your ability to put yourself in your children’s shoes allows you to meet their needs better.
• How transition is handled matters – the more fluid, least amount of conflict the better.
• Keep family a “family” – The message you send your children about what constitutes a family does matter. Your children still have a mother and a father. Only the structure of the family has changed, however your family is still a family. This is an important message to impart to your child/children.
Research suggests that the TWO most damaging things that can occur during a divorce are:
a) Parental conflict
b) Parental loss
Make sure you do everything you can, take the “high road”, to ensure that your children do not continue to witness any parental conflict and/or suffer the loss of a parent because of divorce. Children should be allowed access to both parents following a divorce.
It is important that children continue to have lasting relationships with both parents after the divorce, as they define themselves, and come to understand themselves, based upon who their parents are.
Although you, as a parent, will experience the loss of your marital partner, your child should not have to grieve the same loss, as children should be able to retain a relationship with both parents.
Both parents need to tell children about the divorce, re-telling the story is okay. Repeat this message from time to time with your children. That the:
• Divorce Is Final
• It was an Adult Decision
• It was not their fault
2. Children do not need to be adversely affected by divorce. There are things you can do to protect children from the negative affects of divorce.
a) Reassure them you are available and there for them. Children often wonder can parents divorce me too.
b) Make sure one or both parents provides essential nurturing (i.e., hugs and kisses.)
c) Children need someone who holds expectations for them. Be careful not to parentify, remain consistent with what your expectations were before the divorce.
d) Provide an area or situation in which their voice is heard. This lets them know they matter. “Kids need their say, not necessarily their way.”
e) Most parents only spend 1½ minutes per day actively listening to their children. Try to increase this by becoming an active listener. Allow children to express their feelings. Do not be afraid to ask about their negative feelings. Let them know that all their feelings are O.K.
f) Provide routine, consistency and dependability. Re-establish family rituals: i.e., Wednesday, pizza night, or watch your favorite TV show together, read aloud from their favorite book. Remember that routine gives kids a sense of control and power in a healthy way.
3. See to it that they get support away from home- good examples might be therapy, sports, grandparents and church. Encourage involved grandparents to come to parenting after divorce seminars and/or read material on the subject.
4. Do’s and Don’ts
a) NEVER try to get support from your children. They may pull for you to depend upon them out of their fear of abandonment. In the end, they will only get confused.
b) Do depend on other adults for support.
c) Don’t parentify kids, do not make them your friend, they need to be your children and you need to be the parent.
d) Don’t tell children too many specifics about the divorce.
e) Do remain a good parent/role model.
f) Do DEVELOP your own “new identity”. Allow yourself time (1- 3 years) to heal and rebuild your life. Ask yourself tough questions; learn about yourself before you start dating again. (i.e., “Why was I attracted to my former spouse?”, “What worked in the marriage? Why?” “What didn’t? Why?” “What type of person am I better suited to be around?”
“What types of people are better for me to associate with? Why?”
g) Don’t criticize your former spouse in front of the children.
h) You need to be dependable. Say what you mean and mean what you say. In short, do what you say you are going to do.