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.