Some Tips For Divorcing Parents

Some Tips For Divorcing Parents

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Every year about a million couples get divorced in America. Not all divorces are amicable and peaceful. Unhappiness and tension resulting from "difficult" divorces affects millions of adults and children. The child of a difficult divorce will often suffer worse than his or her parents.

Young children whose parents are divorcing commonly suffer such problems as depression, insomnia, decline of grades, headaches, other physical ailments, behavior problems or loss of self-esteem.

Imagine you are a young child and your parents, the only two people you have ever depended upon to care for you, protect you and love you, are often fighting, crying or screaming at each other. Imagine feeling like you are the cause of their screams, fights and tears. Imagine feeling very alone and scared. Imagine feeling that your parents will abandon you because you are bad. The two people, your parents, to whom you turn for love and comfort are too wrapped up in their own anger, hurt and, perhaps, thoughts of "getting even" and punishing each other.

Don't make the mistake of shutting one parent out of the picture. Blockading the visitation between your child and the other parent may punish the other parent, but it also hurts your child. Don't do it for the "good of my child." A Princeton University study shows that children who live completely isolated from one of their parents are more likely to drop out of school, remain unemployed longer and have a child before reaching 20, then children who live with both parents.

Mental health professionals have been saying for some time that divorce is extremely painful for children, but now the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is also expressing similar views. The academy has come up with these 10 tips for parents that may lessen the impact of divorce on children:
1. Never disparage your former spouse in front of your children.
2. Do not use your children as messengers between you and your former spouse.
3. Reassure your children that they are loved by both, and that the divorce is not their fault.
4. Encourage your children to see your former spouse frequently.
5. At every step during your divorce, remind yourself that your children's interests - not yours - are of paramount interest, and act accordingly.
6. Your children may be tempted to act as your caretaker. Resist the temptation to let them.
7. If you have a drinking or drug problem, get counseling right away.
8. If you are the non-custodial parent, pay your child support.
9. If you are custodial parent, and you are not receiving child support, do not complain to your child.
10. If at all possible, do not uproot your children.

Parents, please don't fight. When you show anger toward the other parent, your children will see it as anger toward them. When you attack the other parent your children will feel attacked. When you belittle or slight the other parent, your children will feel belittled and slighted. You can never win a battle with your former spouse by anger or force. Yes, when children are involved, anger will result into a "lose-lose" situation. Parents who do not recognize this fact inadvertently cause much pain to their children.

The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recommends that children spend some time alone with a child therapist "who might detect hidden messages in a child's artwork or story-telling," and trouble-shoot any problems regarding the post-divorce adjustment.

The academy also advises to avoid custody fights if parents want to ensure their children's well-being after the divorce. If a custody battle is unavoidable, don't ventilate your anger in front of the children.

Talk to your children first before you tell anyone else about the divorce or separation. They should not hear about the breakup from anyone else but you. Both parents should be together when they tell their children about divorce. Children need to be assured that they will get as much time with each parent as possible, given the school and the geographical distance. Assure them that they have the right to love both of you and no one will ever ask them to choose sides. Allow them to see the relatives on each parent's sides.

By stepping back from your anger, you can better attend to the emotional needs of the child and realize what your child needs and wants, not just what you want.

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted July 2003


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