Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good Parenting Decisions after Divorce

In the parenting classes we offer, parents oftentimes tell me that they want to continue good parenting practices after they get divorced. However, there can be some confusion regarding what this type of post divorce parenting actually looks like. Co-parenting is the term used to describe the process of parents working together to meet the needs of their children. Co-parenting responsibilities apply to all people—whether they are single, married, divorced, adoptive, grandparent, guardian, or foster care—who are entrusted with the responsibility to care for children.

Co-parenting, however, almost always takes more work, communication, and lifelong commitment than most people initially expect. Parents who understand the importance of co-parenting and learn effective co-parenting strategies greatly assist their children through the changes associated with separation and divorce. Whenever possible, both parents should be involved in the decisions that keep children safe, healthy, and thriving. Many parents, because of difficulties beyond their control, will be faced with making the majority of decisions themselves. For some, this is a relief because having the other parent's input would be more stressful. For other parents, this can be a source of stress because they are going it alone. Remember that every situation is different and your openness and flexibility will be the key to a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Discussing divorce with children

A positive parenting approach focuses on communicating with your children in age-appropriate ways. Most experts agree that both parents together should speak with their children about the decision to separate or divorce. Many can do this even if one of them does not want the divorce. It is certainly OK for children to see that parents are struggling emotionally. They must also see their parents successfully manage those difficult emotions. If one or both parents prefer or feel obligated to discuss the divorce separately, be honest with your children about what is happening, but speak in neutral terms. Be sure not to assign blame to the other parent. As common-sense as this advice is, it is a very common trap for parents to fall into. In addition, let children know that they are not to blame for the divorce. Be prepared for a wide range of reactions, and make room for whatever responses they have. Do not necessarily expect their initial reaction to be permanent. Remember also, that most children ask a lot of the same questions repeatedly. This is a normal way of gaining a sense of security about their future. Try to curb your frustration and answer them lovingly and consistently.

Let children know often that both parents will always love them and that you will always be a family. The difference will be that Mom and Dad are living in separate homes. Remind your children that you will always support them in having relationships with both parents. Let them know that you are parents forever, and that they will never be abandoned. Remember that for younger children (between the ages of three and seven), short, clear explanations are best. For older kids, lengthier explanations may be appropriate, but be careful not to over-explain. Children will often perceive added details as a move toward getting them to take sides. It is important to remember here that divorce is a process, and your child's understanding will continually evolve with time. As children experience more of life, their ideas about divorce in general and their own situation in particular can change dramatically.

You should stress to your children that the separation/divorce is occurring because of differences between Mom and Dad. Always refrain from speaking badly about the other parent. To accomplish this, you must have other outlets to deal with difficult feelings regarding the other parent. You will ensure a quicker, healthier, adjustment when you are able to respect and care for the other parent despite difficult feelings. Being able to do this will also aid in your own ability to move on and be happy.

Positive Parenting, at this early stage, requires parents to balance stability and change. You should make every effort to keep stability in your child's life while recognizing that divorce is a context for change. The transitions associated with a divorce are wonderful opportunities for children to learn and accept change as a part of life. We can't always predict or choose when our children will get to learn certain life lessons. However, we can look for and embrace such opportunities when they arise.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Deciding to Divorce: The Initial Stages

The first step in implementing a positive parenting approach is to recognize that divorce is not a single event but rather an ongoing process. When you focus on divorce as an event, it’s natural to want to gain control over it. Viewing divorce as an ongoing process, however, permits a broader perspective and greater flexibility. It is also important to remember that no two divorces are alike. People enter and move through the various stages of divorce differently, and personal experiences will vary. While some general signposts are clear enough, there are no exact guidelines to describe each and every divorce, or to prescribe how individuals should deal with various situations and issues.

The initial stage of most divorces occurs when one or both spouses decide that the marriage is over. Sometimes divorce is preceded by a physical separation, in which one spouse moves out of the family home. In other cases, parents live together until the divorce is final. At some point, however, parents are faced with the task of establishing two separate households. When both parents agree on separation, this step can bring about a sense of relief—especially if the home environment was tense, stressful, or filled with the pain of continued arguments. Sometimes parents' best efforts to work on their marriage can actually create more stress. Parents often report noticing their children experiencing some emotional relief during the initial stages of a separation. If you notice signs of distress in your child or children, listen to their concerns, take them seriously, and remember that as they grow more familiar with having two homes, they should begin to feel better.

For many families, separating and establishing two households can be emotionally painful, especially if one or both parents do not want to separate. Positive parenting requires that parents take care of their own needs as they are caring for their children. Because parents who can successfully deal with their own emotional issues during this time are much better equipped to help their children, they should take time to work on the painful emotions that separating can engender. Those emotions may initially include fear, worry, anger, and frustration, to name just a few. Parents who do not have constructive outlets for their own emotions are more likely to express them in ways harmful to themselves and their children. Finding ways to discuss your feelings, get objective feedback, and receive encouragement can help you make balanced and healthy decisions for your kids. Similarly, parents and children both suffer when parents' negative feelings lead them to treat each other poorly. Parents should strive to treat one another with respect. Since conflict is a normal part of life, it would be unrealistic not to anticipate disagreements. However, parents should actively engage in working out conflicts as long as it is done in a safe context for both of them, and as long as children are not present for escalating arguments. Positive parents make this one of their most important priorities at this stage of the divorcing process.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Divorce Parenting and Power Struggles

During our parenting classes, parents often report that they are having a power struggle with their co-parent that they need help with. Power struggles are very common in relationships. Often, divorcing parents will continue a power struggle from their marriage years after their divorce is final. The first step toward eliminating power struggles is awareness. Some parents experience this as, "When I say ‘up,’ he says ‘down’”; “when I say ‘black,’ she says ‘white.’" When you identify this kind of pattern, at first just observe it in action. This observing can lead you to some very interesting and creative strategies for interrupting the escalating cycle.

Compromise is another essential tool for the positive parent. It means being willing to set aside some of your tightly held beliefs about your children and what is best for them. This is easier said than done. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for compromise to be contagious. Often, when one person begins to compromise, (especially in a relationship previously defined by power struggles), the other person begins to follow suit. Parents often ask how long they should compromise in the face of the parent who refuses to meet in the middle. Many parents in this situation justifiably continue to compromise, as the best way to address their children’s best interests. Other parents find it necessary to stand up to the other parent and demand some concessions. You have to take what you know about your co-parent and the specific issue in question, and make the best decision for your family.