Your choices and behaviors in parenting can have an enormous impact on your children’s adjustment to the losses and stresses of your divorce or separation.
What Research Tells Us Works
Overall, the children who do best after divorce and separation are those whose parents
- listen to their children and nurture an independent and empathic relationship with each of them;
- fully support their children’s relationships with the other parent (making them feel loved and wanted in both homes);
- develop positive strategies for setting limits and imposing appropriate discipline;
- continue to hold reasonably high expectations for their children, regardless of trying circumstances; and
- shield their children from their parental disagreements and resentments.
Suggestions For After-Divorce Parenting
Accordingly, consider the following as behaviors to avoid, or helpful behaviors to support the well-being of your children as you create a post-divorce parenting relationship:
Behaviors and Strategies to Avoid
- Don’t force your children to choose one parent over the other.
- Don’t use your children as messengers between yourself and the other parent.
- Don’t put down, criticize or talk negatively about the other parent in front of your children.
- Don’t play "the blame game" around your children, recounting in their presence, one-sided views for the reasons for the divorce, or assailing the other parent for behaviors and issues that arise after the divorce.
- Don’t allow your children to become your caretaker or confidant. Rely instead on your friends, adult family members and mental health professionals for your support. Managing your emotional or social adjustment to divorce is your responsibility as an adult. Your children should remain free to be children, and to concentrate on their friends, school work and activities.
- Don’t play "private investigator" by interrogating your children upon their return from the other parent’s home. Both parents are entitled to move forward with new lives. Extensive questioning of children about their time with the other parent only makes children feel guilty about enjoying that time.
- .Don’t discuss the economic or legal details of your divorce with your children.
- Don’t overreact if your children begin to act differently for a period of time. Many children react to the stress of divorce by regressing from established and more age-appropriate behaviors. However, if those behaviors persist for several months after the divorce, consulting a professional is prudent.
Positive Behaviors and Strategies
- Do make sure that your children feel loved, wanted and safe in your home.
- Do take an active role in developing a respectful approach to communicating with the other parent. Avoid hurtful arguments remember your goal is effective co-parenting over the long run, not "victory" in the short term.
- Do encourage frequent and regular contact between your children and the other parent, absent extraordinary circumstances (such as abuse or addiction).
- Do give the other parent "the benefit of the doubt" and a private opportunity to respond to troubling reports made by children. Children sometimes exaggerate issues, distort facts or even fabricate information about the other parent. Such behavior may be an effort to bond with the parent they are with at the time. And, children may even unconsciously seek to re-involve you and the other parent in dialog (even a "fight" can be perceived by children as a re-connecting of their estranged parents), with some hoped-for chance for your reconciliation. And, of course, even children of intact families seek to manipulate parents to meet their own ends.
- Do get help for any mental health or substance abuse difficulties. The stress of divorce may exacerbate these conditions without support.
- Do encourage interaction between your children and the extended family of the other parent. Parents’ divorce or separation should not displace children’s important relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
- Do notify the other parent if it becomes necessary to change the parenting time schedule because of conflicts. If scheduling conflicts persist and you remain at impasse, consider returning to mediation.
- Do remain conscious of the emotional and developmental assets that both you and the other parent uniquely offer your children, and how these may change, at different times in their lives.
- Do remember that effective communication requires: listening, tolerance, honesty, consideration, empathy, and respect. A little humor can go a long way in such efforts, as well!
- Do be patient with yourself, and your spouse or co-parent. Time is a great healer, but things will not change overnight.
- Do "take care of yourself" during the turmoil of divorce or separation. Reserve time and resources to engage in positive activities that you find rewarding and that promote your health and sense of well-being.
- Do some reading and educate yourself on the special challenges of this period in your life. Divorce or separation is not something about which you will have all the answers: it may be new to you, and it is always difficult.