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.

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