In my practice, I’ve met hundreds of parents who are considering divorce. Thankfully, in most of the cases, these parents are concerned about their children’s welfare and well-being, and want to do everything possible to ensure that their children are not negatively impacted by the break-up. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the most commonly asked questions in hopes of helping other parents who are going through a divorce.
1. What does working together as parents really mean?
Working together as parents means just that. You must work together to ensure that the children come first and are not affected in any way by the divorce or how the parents feel about each other. You must be able to arrange a fair parenting schedule that allows the children to spend equal amounts of time with each parent. It is important that the child gets the same love and attention from both parents, so they feel secure and taken care of. The parents must communicate with one another for the benefit of the children. I can’t stress this enough. The children must come first.
2. How can parents ease the hurt for children?
During divorce, children have a wide variety of emotions. They’re scared, they’re hurt, and they are often worried about the unknown. To help alleviate these feelings, parents need to stop arguing, yelling and blaming each other in front of the children. While it was the parent’s decision to divorce from one another, it is crucial to remember that the children were not part of that decision. Bad-mouthing the ex in front of the children can paint a negative picture of that parent. This is not fair. Children need to know that both parents love them and will always be there. I encourage parents to stop and think before they say something negative about their ex. It only hurts the children by doing so, and the long-term effects can be especially damaging.
3. How can parents prepare children for the separation or divorce?
It is important to keep your children in the loop and not to blind side them during the divorce. Call a family meeting to explain what is going on, why you two have come to the decision and what to expect moving forward with the living situations. Be honest, but be sensitive and compassionate as to how they might react to this news. It’s important to not put the blame on anyone, especially the children. They might blame themselves for your decision to separate or divorce, but you need to reassure them that they had no impact on the decision. Constantly remind them throughout this difficult transition that they will be cared for and loved by both parents.
4. What special needs do children have at different ages?
Pre-School-Age Children’s Needs:
When children are young, they need frequent contact with both parents. They need to be held, fed, bathed, read to, cuddled, played with and spoken to. Young children are very co-dependent and need their parents to be caring and nurturing. At this age, especially, divorcing parents need to put all of their differences aside and be there for their children. This is a critical time for development. Both parents must be involved no matter how difficult or challenging the break-up is.
School-Age Children’s Needs:
School-age children need to spend longer periods of time with each parent. Sleeping over at each parent’s home helps them to feel comfortable and relaxed with both parents. Young children need to know that they are not the reason why their parents got divorced. They want to be able to love both parents. It is important that both parents are involved in their children’s education and participate in teacher conferences, school activities and social events. School age children need to know that their parents are both there for them
Adolescents tend to be more independent. They need privacy and time to spend with their friends, as well as the flexibility to reschedule time with their parents as needed. They definitely do not want to feel like they are in the middle of their parents or have to make decisions to choose to spend time with one parent over the other, so do not put them in that position. Don’t force your adolescent to take sides. Instead, show them love and support and continually remind them that both parents are there for them.
5. Why do some parents stop seeing the children after a divorce/separation?
There can be many reasons why a parent decides to cut all ties with their children. One reason that my colleagues and I have seen over and over again is that it seems to be too painful. One parent or the other simply doesn’t want to relive a painful time in their lives and seeing their children reminds them of the family they once had, but no longer exists. Another reason is that the exes can’t along and/or can’t come to an agreement when it come sharing time with the children. So rather than arguing and going back and forth, it’s easier for some people to just walk away. Whatever the reasons are, not seeing the children is not the right thing to do. It will make them feel abandoned, confused and unloved. The children must come first, and parents must put their differences and emotions aside for the benefit of their children.