Food for Thought: Guidelines for divorced parents
Divorce is always a difficult and sad event for everybody involved, especially children.
One third of all children in the United States experience divorce at one time or another. For most children the process of divorce is painful and traumatic.
The emotions of marital separation and divorce are often comparable to that of a death. Indeed, children as well as adults will experience the same stages of grieving.
In addition, they will experience many rapid and multiple changes in their lives that will be difficult and stressful to adapt to how well children cope with these changes is contingent upon how well parents are able to resolve their differences.
It is extremely important for parents to realize their behavior affects their children’s adjustment. If the divorce is amicable and parents are able to cooperate and work out their differences the children will be able to adjust much better than if the divorce is bitter.
The following are guidelines for divorced parents that will help minimize the impact of divorce:
- No one should make, or allow children to make, negative comments about either parent in the presence of their child, or in a situation where the child is likely to overhear.
- The child should not be used as a “messenger” between parents. All communication from parent to parent needs to be made directly and not through the child.
- The child should not be used to gather information about the other household, or act as a “spy” for one parent or the other.
- The child should not be asked with whom he or she would like to live with.
- The child should not be allowed to decide whether he or she will visit the parent who does not have physical custody. In situations where the child exhibits persistent reluctance to go, professional evaluation of the child and situation is warranted. If there are no indications of abuse or other harmful situations, both parents should tell the child visitation will take place as planned, and the matter of visitation is a decision made by adults.
- Every attempt should be made by the custodial parent to avoid scheduling activities for the child during times of regular visitation with the noncustodial parent. Until a regular pattern of visitation is established successfully, changes to the schedule should be avoided.
- Adult issues such as child support, infidelity, etc., should not be the topic of discussion between parent and child.
- A child should not be exposed to frequent changes in new relationships. Avoid having a child spend a great deal of time with a parent’s dating partner until it seems certain that the relationship is a long term one.
- If a child has a concern or complaint about one or the other parent, he or she should be encouraged to take the issue up with that parent directly.
- Arrange for regular visits from the noncustodial parent to assure the child she or he is loved by both parents. If the noncustodial parent fails to call or come for a visit assure the child it is not their fault and they are not responsible for that parent’s behavior.
- Children experiencing a divorce are still children at a particular developmental level. Avoid asking them to assume responsibility beyond their capabilities - being the man of the family, baby sitting younger children, or taking on excessive household chores.
- If disputes between both parents arise on a regular basis, it is recommended both parents agree to seek an impartial mediator to help them resolve the issues.
Because parents are so tied up with their own issues they often fail to recognize that adjustment after a divorce will take children time and requires continuous understanding and reassurance.
No matter what the other parent has done the child feels that they are still a part of that parent for better or worse. Therefore, any criticism leveled against the other parent, children will feel reflects on them.
Children need to feel they are loved by both parents. Parent’s differences must be put aside and their behavior needs to be directed toward the best interest of their children.
Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She can be contacted at 827-0700.