One of the most difficult times to parent is when one is experiencing a breakup of the parental relationship. Parenting requires such physical and emotional energy and when a parent is depleted of both, due to their own emotional turmoil, grief, and loss, it is extremely difficult to continuously put the needs of the children first. However, to the extent that parents are able to do so, children will benefit by experiencing reduced stress and trauma as the family moves through the transition. Over the next month I will offer some insight into handling this transition in the easiest way for the children. There is no painless way to handle a separation or divorce and the newest research supports the idea that even low conflict divorces can be very stressful on children of all ages. The feelings and attitude that the parents have about each other will have the greatest impact on how the children deal with the divorce. As difficult as the physical separation from one parent is, it is the conflict between the parents that causes the children the most stress. The higher the parental conflict, the more traumatic for the children.
Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- Keep children out of the middle of the parental relationship.
- Do not argue in their presence or where they can hear you. Be mindful of how you handle telephone conversations!
- Be mindful of the tone of voice you use with the other parent. Children will pick up on the slightest hint of contempt.
- Allow them to have a relationship with both parents without feeling guilty. In fact, do all you can to encourage it. This is essential to their emotional development.
- Do not put down the other parent or call them names. Be careful of how you speak about the other parent to your friends or family in the presence of the children.
- Do not discuss legal issues or finances with the children.
- Do not send messages through the children.
- Do not force them to choose sides or choose where to live.
- Use other adults or professionals for support. Do not lean on the children for emotional support even if they are teenagers.
- Keep transitions between homes stress free. Let the children know you want them to enjoy being with the other parent and that you will be fine while they are away.
- Don’t quiz them when they return from the other parent’s home.
- Work on forgiving the other parent.
- Concentrate on changing your own behavior. Behave well no matter what the other parent does.
- Don’t introduce new partners too soon after the separation. At least six months is a good rule of thumb.
- Take care of yourself. Get the support you need to move through the transition in a healthy way, such as professional help, a support group, or spiritual guidance.
Next time we will focus on the best way to tell the children about the separation or divorce.