Parenting through Separation and Divorce: Smoothing the Transition for Children
Every separating and divorcing parent worries about how the separation and/or divorce will affect the children. And it’s probably fair to say that most parents recognize how important it is to remain involved in their children’s lives and to continue to work together as parents “as if” they were still together. However, it’s probably also fair to say that many parents struggle with this and wonder if it’s even possible.
The Basics of Parenting through Divorce
There is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to parenting through divorce since every child reacts and adjusts differently to each individual separation or divorce. The only thing that can be said for certain is that divorce is tough on kids. But the way you handle the situation can have a great impact and make it easier for your kids to adjust. (1)
Throughout the separation and divorce process, it is important to remember that “[t]here is no such thing as a perfect parent or an ideal family. Being a good parent doesn’t mean having all the answers or solving every problem. It means demonstrating love and concern and helping children and youth understand and cope with their feelings. It means providing a safe and nurturing environment, and fostering a child’s sense of trust and self-esteem.” (1)
Separation and Divorce Survival Tips for Parents
The “as-if” principle has already been mentioned above. Other parental survival tips include:
- Help your children express their feelings. Children cope better when they feel they are being heard. (1) Additionally, don’t downplay your child’s pain and sadness. Anger and disappointment are normal, healthy emotional reactions. A child is entitled to these feelings and should be able to talk about them without worrying about upsetting you. (5)
- Separate your spousal relationship (which has ended) from your role as parents (which goes on) (1)
- Kids need at least one responsible parent who will teach right from wrong, set limits and routines which results in a “more stable and predictable environment that encourages healthy development.” (2)
- Develop a parenting plan that contains information about how the children’s medical, emotional, educational, spiritual, physical and social needs will be met. A parenting plan makes big decisions more manageable and will also reduce conflicts in the future. (4)
- Remember, teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they need attention too especially because they may not voluntarily express their feelings.
- Devise a visitation schedule that is flexible and allows your child to still enjoy essential activities. Restricting these activities even for parental time may result in resentment and resistance. (3)
- Reassure your child that they are loved and that the breakup of the marriage and/or disappointing behavior of the other parent has nothing to do with their ‘lovability’. (5)
- Don’t make excuses for the other parent if he/she doesn’t come through. Allow your child to vent and express himself, and acknowledge your child’s disappointment. At the same time, don’t criticize or apologize for the other parent to your child. (5)
- Have a back-up plan in the case of a no-show. A play date or special time with you can help your child cope with the disappointment. (5)
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
1) Because Life Goes On…Helping Children and Youth Live with Separation and Divorce: A Guide for Parents. Health Canada. Web. Mar 6, 2013.
2) Cooperative Parenting During Divorce. Recently separated? Practice As if Parenting. Direnfeld, Gary. WomansDivorce.com. Web. Mar 6, 2013.
3) Parenting Teenagers During Divorce – Teens and Visitation. McWhorter Sember, Brette. WomansDivorce.com. Web. Mar 6, 2013.
4) Workshops & Conflict Coaching: Parenting Plans. FamiliesFirstMediation.com. Web. Mar 6, 2013.
5) 11 Rules for Helping Your Child Deal with Divorce. St. Lifer, Holly. Parents Magazine. Web. Mar 6, 2013.