Divorce brings to mind acrimony, fighting, negativity. When children are involved emotions can be heightened, and fighting for custody can result in putting children in the middle of a battle they cannot stop or control. For attorneys, the most amicable path for their clients who are ending a marriage is often “collaborative divorce.” With collaborative divorce, you and your spouse work with professionals outside of court to negotiate an agreement acceptable to both of you. If you are in Ohio and would like a referral for an attorney who practices collaborative divorce, contact me.
If you are considering or already in the process of divorce and children are involved, please take a moment to read the following article by Lesley Cross, a licensed professional counselor who runs a private practice, Bridges Counseling of Worthington. For more information on Lesley or her practice, visit her website or Facebook page:
Don’t stay married for the kids…but at least divorce well for their sake
By Lesley Cross, MA, LPC
I’m not the therapist that thinks parents should stay married “for the sake of the children.” But I definitely AM the one who strongly believes parents who divorce owe it to their children to divorce well.
Divorce is messy. It impacts everyone. The goal is to make life happier post divorce for all involved, but often, the newly created COD [Children of Divorce] have lifelong challenges as a result of the divorce. Unless parents handle their divorce well with respect, co-parenting, thought for the children and continued support of the other parent, the children will suffer long after the legal paperwork is filed.
The following points help parents to divorce well and consider the ways in which they can make the divorce easier for their children.
- Don’t put the child in the middle.
Sure, Mom and Dad don’t have to see each other every day or communicate on a regular basis anymore. But the kids are now stuck in the middle. “Ask your Mom….” “Be sure to tell your Dad….” They’re stuck and no longer do they have the role of a child with two loving parents but instead are in the middle playing the mediating messenger. This isn’t a role they asked for and one that they find to be very stressful and frustrating. The child finds that they start to pull away from both parents and hide information from both to prevent being stuck in the middle further. Teens may limit face to face communication and prefer to text instead to avoid the emotional connection or blaming that comes from in person discussions. Parents must not expect their children to take sides or choose where they live and for what duration because that is a pressure non-COD can’t begin to understand. Leaving the communication to the adults and removing the child from the middle is critical.
- Don’t bash the other parent.
Divorcing parents must get along. True, the marriage didn’t end as happily as it started. But the divorce is not permission to continue the fight. The adults got out of the marriage. They’re free. The kids didn’t. They are forever now COD and unless the parents can get along, respect the other parent, encourage a loving and strong bond with the other person and truly invest in the welfare of the children together- the negative impact of divorce is one that will stay with the child forever. This means divorced parents do not have the right to bad mouth the other parent to the child. They cannot yell at the other parent while the child watches and overhears. They don’t get to complain about the other parent publically. Doing so not only creates insecurity, confusion and hate in the child. You don’t have to like your ex- but you must be supportive of your child to have a loving relationship with that parent. Bashing the other parent is in fact publically hating half of who the child is. They know this and find it to be confusing and hurtful. It also is difficult for the COD to succeed with relationships if they feel they are hurting one parent by having a strong relationship with the opposite parent. The COD needs and should be encouraged to have strong bonds with both parents (and step parents if applicable.) When parent alienation goes too far it borders on child abuse, leaving emotional scars far worse than parents may realize.
- Don’t overshare information with the children.
Divorced parents must not share too much information with the children. Children do not need to know the financial battles of divorce and child support. They do not need to know the other’s opinion on who Mommy or Daddy is now dating or what they’re doing with their personal lives. Comments such as “that’s nice your dad got you new shoes, too bad he can’t pay his child support this month” or “If you mom hadn’t left us for her new boyfriend we wouldn’t be in this situation” not only harm the relationship but expose the children to information inappropriate and harmful for them. This forces them into a role too mature and emotionally confusing for them to navigate.
- Divorced parents must still parent as a unit.
Communication lines must be open. Secrets can’t be kept about what happens at one household or another. Shared values and parenting steps need to be agreed upon. Plans for major events, celebrations, and holidays need to be handled with respect. Nothing ruins the holiday mood like listening to parents fight over who has the children when – or worse- spending the holidays at 3 locations so everyone “wins” (because no COD feels that was a win for them.)
While ideally both parents still support the child in his/her events (school plays, sporting events, birthday parties, etc.) the child now has the added stress of determining who to see first after the event. If possible, parents should sit together or close to one another at events as the child has a constant loop in their head of self questioning “If I walk to Mom first then Dad is left out. If I go give Dad a hug now Mom will be offended.” When the child is at one parent’s home they are hesitant to talk about, call or text the other parent out of fear that they will upset the parent they are with. It’s a constant battle of choices that plays in the child’s head trying to not upset or hurt the person they are with; the reality is person hurting the most is the child themselves.
Failure to follow the above 4 steps creates a trauma for children of divorce that is linked to lower self-esteem, academic and social struggles, younger and sometimes risky sexual exploration, self mutilation, self-hate, lack of trust, struggles in their own romantic relationships and substance abuse. Divorce is sometimes the best option for all parties involved, but choosing to divorce comes with great responsibility to divorce well for the sake of the children and their future.