Most often when parents seek advice about helping their children after their divorce adjust, they are, more often then not, told what not to do rather than being given some useful ideas about how to behave in a positive manner which is of great benefit for their children. Typically they are told: “Try to not put your children in the middle of conflict between your ex and you” or “Do your best not to badmouth your ex partner.” This may be helpful and can have its place, it does however assume a deficit perspective in relation to divorcing parents, and does not look at the good faith efforts of the parents and their intent to do the best for their children. Often what is missing in advice offered are practical and concrete steps that parents can take to enable their children to cope with the divorce but actually flourish in the aftermath of it.
Here are some guidelines which are offered in the spirit that parents already have the capacity, strength, and ability to help their children through the difficult transitions from going through divorce, and will provide practical and concrete support. Parents will do well to find the necessary support networks they may need to address their children’s needs during and after the divorce. Most divorcing parents, with a little support, can help their children through this time.
There is no “magical formula” and “no typical formula” to ensure positive family and child outcomes, and every family and child is unique. There are some general guidelines for successful co-parenting that apply to most, if not all, divorcing families.
1. Being there for your children, both emotionally and physically. You need to spend enough time with your children so it is possible to have sufficient routine time to develop and sustain those relationships. Enough time with your kids is important however it is also important to be present emotionally with them. To be engaged and attuned and take an interest in all aspects of their lives and be actively involved in their day to day activities and routines.
2. Talking with your children about the divorce. Your children need to know that they will not be abandoned, physically or emotionally, by both parents. Creating a safe environment will be reassuring for them and having open discussions, where they can safely express their feelings of confusion and shock, grief, self-blame, sadness, fear, anger and guilt. Divorce is a long-term process for the children, not a one-time event, and be prepared to have several such talks about it. If at all possible, talk with your children together as parents, reassuring them that you will both try your best to cooperate together in the future.
3. Letting children be children. Keep the children out of adult problems and maintain continuity in their existing relationships and routines, and shelter them from the difficulties that are the responsibility of their parents.
4. Supporting the other parent’s relationship and role with your children. The idea is to optimize and maximize and the time that your children can spend with each parent. Having to parent well under duress can be extremely difficult, with having to deal possibly with a co-parent who is less than supportive of their relationship and role with their children. Keeping to the co-parenting schedule, moving from a place of antagonism and conflict toward cooperation and remaining flexible in accommodating each other wherever possible, you can support each other as parents.
5. Acting and Speaking in a respectful manner toward the other parent, especially in front of your children. Being respectful toward your co-parent is vitally important to the children’s well-being, and shielding children from conflict is essential. There are few things more damaging to a child than Witnessing conflict between parents, is damaging. as a children see themselves as essentially half their father and half their mother. Try to keep this in mind when interacting with the other parent.
6. Keeping communication channels open with the other parent is important. The key to cooperative parenting is regular and open communication. If you find this is not possible, then emails, phone calls, or stockpiling concerns to be discussed at arranged “co-parenting meetings,” with or without a third party mediator present, are good possibilities. If however, you are not able to communicate without resorting to recriminations and conflict, a parallel parenting plan in which co-parenting arrangements are laid out in a schedule which is agreed upon, is another good option.
7. Maintaining your child’s community of support. Maintaining existing routines and relationships with extended family members, school, friends, and other activities is essential for the children’s security. This adds to children’s sense of predictability, stability, and continuity, in their lives.
8. Educating yourself about children’s co-parenting options, community resources and needs. Shared parenting offers parents an almost infinite variety of co-parenting scheduling arrangements that fit with the stages of development and children’s ages, and can be tailor-made to the families’ and children’s unique situations. There are resources available on the web as well as in community based agencies for parents to access.
9. Seeking out informal and formal sources of co-parenting support. Friends, family members, and informal support networks are so important in helping parents work through difficult feelings, including anger, and the other challenges and transitions that may come up during the divorce. There are formal sources of support which offer a wide array of choices including family mediation looking at the development and implementing of co-parenting plans, parenting coordination and divorce coaching in high conflict situations.
10. Maintaining your own well being and healthy. Your children depend on you, and you owe it to them to prioritize your own emotional, mental and physical health. For parents struggling with co-parenting and trying to help your children: never, never give up.
It is critically important to keep in mind that the two most important factors in children’s successful adjustment to the consequences of divorce are shielding them from ongoing parental conflict and maintaining a meaningful routine relationship with each of their parents. It may be a challenge for parents to develop and maintain a co-parenting relationship ensuring that both of these essential needs are met. Finding professional service provider and informal support networks that support (and not undermine) the parents in the fulfillment of their responsibilities in regard to these needs of the children can be crucially important to both the parents along with the children.
Having gone through a divorce myself and having children as well as having my close friend also going through one now, I thought this might be helpful for some of you.