Tips for Divorcing Parents
by Christina Carson-Sacco, Psy.D.
So you find yourself going through the divorce process. If you are like most parents, you’re concerned about how to minimize the stress on your children and are aware that how you handle the divorce could greatly affect them. Though many of these tips are not easy to follow, hopefully they will give you guidance during this challenging time.
Telling your child about the divorce is difficult and needs to be handled sensitively. Both parents should set aside their own feelings and deliver the message together, in an age appropriate manner, simply, and without any blaming or anger. Focus on your child’s needs at this time.
Stress that even if you are divorced, that you will never stop loving your child and will always be her parents. Sometimes children worry that if parent’s can stop loving each other, then maybe they can stop loving them.
Stress that they did not cause the divorce. Often, children assume things are about them. They may have overheard you arguing about them. Be clear that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the divorce.
Realize that all children have different reactions. Some will be very upset, while others may seem to have little reaction. Children may have specific questions about how the divorce will affect them. You may not have the answers, but you can assure them that you will do your best and that the family will get through this.
Set aside your feelings toward your former spouse, so that you both can focus on what’s best for your children. Let go of control and the need to ‘win.’ Think of it as a business relationship, which may make it easier to be polite, communicate effectively, compromise, and remember that the other parent loves the children and is doing their best.
Never criticize the other parent to or around your children. Know that children are always listening and even at a young age, understand that they are made up of half of each parent. Putting down your former spouse can damage your child’s self-esteem, as they can feel you don’t like of a part of them.
Refrain from using your child as a messenger. It is tempting to ask a child to relay a message or to report what is happening at the other house. However, this puts strain on your child and they can feel trapped in the middle.
Do not fight or argue in front of your children (or within earshot.) Your fighting can be frightening. Role model appropriate expressions of feelings in front of them.
Do not discuss money matters with your child, no matter the age. If the child is concerned, assure her that the adults will make sure she is taken care of. If you are ordered to pay child support, do so in a timely manner.
Stability in home and school is not always possible, but it is the ideal. If you have to move, maintain rituals, relationships with friends and extended family, or activities to create continuity.
Foster a healthy relationship between the child and their other parent, as well as that side of the family. Remind the child that even if their parent does things differently than you or disappoints them, they love them.
Transfers can be difficult for everyone. Understand that on transition days, your child is likely to be a little “off.” Strive to be courteous, be on time, and bring all the things your child needs for his stay. Do not linger or use this time to work out conflicts.
Out of guilt or fear of the child liking the other parent more, some parents will forgo rules and limits, or will buy their children lots of gifts. This strategy will backfire, as it undermines your authority and is not in the best interest of your child.
Try to create as much consistency as possible. No two households will run exactly the same, and kids will adjust. Try to avoid power struggles with the other parent and do not disparage their parenting around your child. Unless agreed upon ahead of time, do not expect the other parent to carry out a punishment you’ve given the child. If you are having difficulty co-parenting effectively, consider working with a psychologist on ways to better co-parent.
Find a support system and take care of yourself. It is normal to grieve the end of your marriage. If you are having trouble sleeping, eating, are relying on drugs or alcohol, having significant mood issues or need unbiased support, call a psychologist. Surround yourself with people who will support you and encourage a healthy divorce. Never use your children as confidants, caretakers, or companions. Remember, caring for your children means making sure you are a healthy, as well.
Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a psychologist in private practice. To learn more about her work, visit her website at www.TheCenterInWarrington.com.