Pointers for Parents during Separation and Divorce
Allen Holmquist, Ph.D., MFT
Virginia D. Holmquist, R.N., M.A., MFT
Marriage and Family Therapists
Divorce Mediation and Separation Counseling
A PERSONAL NOTE. The decision to divorce or not will be one of the most important and far reaching choices of your life. Especially at risk are your innocent children. Your peace of mind is also threatened if you feel years later that you did not exhaust all reasonable attempts to heal the marriage before making your final decision. So for your sake and the sake of your children, make sure that you have done whatever you reasonably can to make your marriage work well for everyone, including you.
You may find encouragement in two facts taken from scientific research and our clinical experience about the effects of divorce on children. First, it is usually better for the children of parents in the midst of a bad marriage to divorce rather than subject the children to a hostile or distant home environment for years. Second, you may be both surprised and chagrined to learn that your relationship with your ex-spouse is the single most important factor in determining your children's adjustment to the divorce. It is not who gets custody, or how much time spent with mom and dad, or the age or gender of your children that is paramount. In spite of the pain and anger in the past and present, it is the effectiveness and quality of your parental relationship that will affect your children for the rest of their lives. How well you adjust and fulfill your new roles in a divorced family falls back once again on the two of you getting along, albeit in an entirely new way with a new relationship.
So please, for the sake of your children and yourself, read and heartfully consider the following pointers for parents. And best of luck in this challenging and vital endeavor.
~Allen and Virginia
POINTERS FOR PARENTS DURING SEPARATION AND DIVORCE
1. RELATIONSHIPS CHANGE. Divorce or separation often means that parents move from being a married couple, which implies love, teamwork, and reciprocity, to a relationship where their only mutual mission is to co-parent. When talking to your former partner, be mindful if you are communicating as a co-parent or former spouse.
2. KIDS NEED BOTH PARENTS. Many children of divorce believe they must take sides or choose between mom and dad. To protect against this, repeatedly reassure your children that they do not have to choose one parent over the other.
3. TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM. Sometimes children feel unloved and unimportant during the emotional turbulence that accompanies separation and divorce. Tell your children you love them. Reassure them mom and dad will ALWAYS love them, even if they no longer live together.
4. KIDS ARE NOT TO BLAME. It is very common for children to imagine they are to blame for the separation and divorce of their parents. They can believe they caused the breakup and therefore be convinced they can repair the damage. Explain to your children the separation and divorce is not their fault nor is it their task to bring mom and dad back together.
5. DON'T FIGHT IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. Divorce is often an intense time for everyone in the family. Be careful NOT to fight in the presence of your children. Organize a time and place, not when you exchange the children, mutually convenient for both parents to discuss and resolve conflicting issues. If a fight erupts spontaneously, remember you can STOP, TAKE A TIME OUT and reschedule the conversation.
6. INTERRUPT KIDS LIVES AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. Divorce can create many changes for children. Continuity is important to maintain. Strive to make your children's environment as familiar and personable as possible, including their favorite things, photographs, toys, blankets, etc. Creating a home in each place they stay is essential.
7. YOUR KIDS ARE NOT MESSENGERS. Because children often go back and forth between their parents' houses, it is tempting for parents to ask them to deliver messages and obtain information. Do not place the role of spy or messenger upon your children. This is inappropriate and increases their stress.
8. EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FROM ADULTS. Divorce is a very difficult time for parents. It is important for parents to get emotional support from family, friends, counselors, clergy, and support groups. It is unfair to your children to use them for emotional support. As a parent, it is your job to provide emotional support for your children.
9. ENCOURAGE SHARING. During stressful times, many children demonstrate changes in their behavior. Some misbehave, some regress while others act in a mature fashion, far beyond their years. Remember to ask your children how they feel, and what they think or imagine is going on. Give them permission to express their feelings. Be supportive.
10. DON'T BURDEN YOUR CHILDREN. Most children are exposed to more than they can comprehend about their parents' problems. Do not relate to your children as if they were marriage counselors and burden them with the business of divorce: money, custody, or court issues. With younger children, reassure them that decisions will be made with their best interest in mind. Remember to ask older children for their thoughts and feelings regarding decisions, letting them know that although the final decisions are to be made by the grown ups, they have a voice and it counts.
- THE GOOD DIVORCE by Constance Ahsono
- MOM'S HOUSE AND DAD'S HOUSE by Isolina Ricci
- WHEN DIVORCE HITS HOME by Beth Joselow and Thea Joselow
- DINOSAURS' DIVORCE by L. Krasy and M. Brown (for children)
- THE BOYS' AND GIRLS' BOOK ABOUT DIVORCE by Richard Gardner (for children)