Therapy/ Counseling for Divorced Parents - 619-330-9500
Parenting after your Divorce
by Katie Brooks, LCSW
(Research consistently finds that children’s adjustment is highly correlated with managed conflict.)
Children benefit when parents:
Children have self-centered thinking, called egocentrism. It is best to address the divorce in terms of how it will affect them, such as school, sports, and friends. Keep it honest, factual, and brief. Try not to go into why. No more than, “I’m sure you’ve noticed that we aren’t getting along anymore.” Make sure that they know that you can take care of yourself, it is not their fault, and you will always love them and will never leave.
*Initiate the child’s contact with the other parent on a regular basis by phone, letter, audio and videotapes, e-mail and other forms of communication.
5 day stretches are too long to be away from either parent. For older children it is recommended that the children are away for no longer than one week. For parents who live out of town the use of email, phone, and skype are useful tools to nurture connection. If you have an infant that cannot be away because of a feeding schedule, frequent visits are encouraged. The more involvement of both parents decreases the risk of disrupting your child’s growth.
*Maintain predictable schedules
In a situation in which the child has no control, it is beneficial to develop a schedule that your child can count on each week. It provides the stability that your child needs in order to grow emotionally. If your child is confused about the schedule or is given the responsibility to choose which parent to spend time with, it will result in a distraction from normal developmental tasks such as school, the development of social skills, and physical achievement.
*Are prompt and have children ready at exchange time
This will limit the risk of conflict during exchanges and keep your child’s transition smooth.
*Ensure smooth transitions by assuring the children that they support their relationship with the other parent and trust the other’s parenting skills.
Transitions for children are difficult as it is, but being the cause of conflict while in transition is awful. Because children are egocentric and do not have the ability to see other perspectives, they automatically will attribute your divorce and conflict as being their fault. This is not a good time to communicate. If you need to communicate about something important, schedule another time to do so. Try to focus on your child’s experience and continue to provide a safe environment for him or her.
*Allow the children to carry “important” items such as clothing, toys and security blankets with them between the parents’ homes.
Sometimes it can be scary to transition from the childhood home to an unknown apartment. Letting children bring items of familiarity will ease the transitional process.
*Follow similar routines for mealtime, bedtime and homework
In some cases, it is very difficult to achieve this goal when there is very little communication and a lot of conflict between spouses. Children have the ability to keep track of the different rules in each household, but routines that maintain health should transcend household lines. Children who have a consistent meal and bedtime patterns are more focused, better rested, and oftentimes more emotionally stable than those who do not follow consistent patterns.
*Handle rules and discipline in similar ways.
Again this is a guideline rather than a rule. It is confusing for a child to learn appropriate behaviors and develop positive personality traits if each household has drastically different rules of being.
*Support contact with grandparents and other extended family so the children do not experience a sense of loss
This time is extraordinarily stressful for parents. Usually parents are fatigued and emotionally overloaded. Research shows that resilient children tend to have extra adults that are interested in them. Lean on your extended family. Let them fill in the gaps. Children who experience divorce often lose their history. Photographs are taken off the walls and stories stop being told. Extended family is a great way for your children to here who they are and where they have been. This relieves you of the duty and the emotional turmoil it can sometimes cause to dig up these memories.
*Are flexible so the child can take advantage of opportunities to participate in special family celebrations or events
Children appreciate it when both parents show up at special events, but if you cannot get yourself to be present, allow your child to take part. Don’t ask your children to choose whom they would like to spend the holidays with. This makes your children choose between the two people they love the most. This is a no-win situation for your children. Either way they will develop guilt. Be the parent and make the tough decision, so they do not have to feel guilty. This is not their fault.
*Give as much advance notice as possible to the other parent about special occasions
Keep your ex-spouse in the know, so that he or she has ample time to make plans in order to show up for your child’s big day. This will save your child from feeling abandoned when your ex-spouse does not show up for the big game.
*Provide an itinerary of travel dates, destination and places where the child or parent can be reached when on vacation
All parents worry and benefit from knowing where their children are just in case of emergency. Remember that you may be in the same position one day and would like to be respectfully communicated with as well.
*Establish a workable, “business-like” method of communication
Texting and email are great for logistics, but be careful because tone of voice is absent and can create miss-interpretation. Do not use email to vent. Long emails are not read, so keep it to the point. When using the phone make sure that your tone is calm and keep it brief as well. Phone conversations have a tendency to get heated without warning. Anything that is important should be discussed in person in a public place. It can be beneficial to create a shared calendar or website for shared finances (see websites at the bottom of the page). It is beneficial to create a team relationship regardless of how you feel about the other person. Take a step back and focus on the job the two of you have to do.
*Are generous and accepting when a accidents happen at the other parent’s home
Some parents make the cognitive error of withholding the children because they do not want their children to get hurt like they did. Mistaking the romantic wound for actual safety. All parents make mistakes and accidents happen at both parent’s homes. Before immediately assuming it was the your ex-spouse’s fault try to put yourself in his or her shoes. False allegations of abuse can be just as injurious as actual abuse. If a child thinks that her parent has abused her there are still great emotional consequences. This belief can result in trust issues, self-esteem, loss, grief, guilt and depending on the child, much more.
*Plan their vacations around their children’s regularly scheduled activities
Parent’s who plan their vacations when their children are supposed to be with the ex-spouse disrupt their children’s connection with the other parent. Again this puts pressure on the child to choose between parents. Naturally children will want to go on vacation missing their regularly scheduled visit. This sets up the other parent to be rejected causing the parent to either get angry with you or with your child, and your child to feel guilty. Another no-win situation in which, not only is the parent being punished, but also your child.
*Agree upon an emergency message
Let’s face it, sometimes parents are not able to get along and phone calls get ignored. If there is an emergency though, there should be a way to relay that to the other parent. Possibly a “911” text or voice message can be set up.
Children are very sensitive to a depressed parent. They can respond by misbehaving (sometimes it’s the only way to get attention), withdrawing, sadness, or grades will fall because they are not focused on school. Make sure that you are well taken care of so that you can take care of your children. You can practice self care by: getting plenty of sleep, exercising, meditating, attending social gatherings, maintaining relationships with family and friends, eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, talking about your feelings, taking time to yourself, and engaging in hobbies.
*Allow them to express their feelings
Having a conversation with your child about your own feelings may spark a much-needed conversation about their own. It is important to teach your child to express his or her feelings in a healthy way. For example, “Yes, I am angry and sad about the divorce, but this is a part of life. Are you sad? What do you do when you are sad? This is how I deal with it….. With older children it is important to address over-eating and drinking early on.
CHILDEN ARE HARMED WHEN PARENTS…
*Make their child choose between mom and dad
Love is not finite. There should not have to be a decision between loving mom and dad. Explain to your child that it is like loving both apples and oranges. There is no need for competition.
*Question their child about the other parent’s activities or relationships
*Make promises they do not keep
*Argue with or put down the other parent in the child’s presence or range of hearing
Most arguments revolve around the children making them feel responsible. Criticizing the other parent’s ability to parent or causing conflict during transition can alter your child’s self-esteem and sense of security. If you criticize your ex in front of your child it is very confusing. For instance, it is similar to bad-mouthing your child’s favorite super hero. Your ex-spouse is a part of your child. If you disparage him or her it is as if you are insulting your child. Even if your ex-spouse is, for example, not paying child support. The message that your child hears is that his parent does not love him enough to pay for him. This makes your child feel neglected. It is extremely important that children do not feel abandoned during a time when they have already experienced an immense loss.
*Discuss their personal problems with the child or in the child’s range of hearing
Children are very protective of their parents and are much more tuned in then you think. Sometimes they can even hide their feelings in order to protect their parents or take care of them. Find time to discuss how they are doing regularly. Nighttime is a good time to connect while you are putting them to bed. If they are older try to make yourself available to listen in the car.
*Use the child as a messenger, spy or mediator
*Withhold access because the child support has not been paid
(A subscription service that gives both parents a forum for sharing information)
(Model Parenting Time Plans for Parent/ Child Access)
(Program for communication and managing conflict)
(A subscription service that gives both parents a forum for sharing information)
(A resource for many documents and resources)
(Website for cooperative parenting and parallels parenting classes.)