After divorce, it’s often difficult for both parent and child when one household becomes two. The child sees each parent less, each parent sees the child less. Add in relocation of one parent to the mix, and a tough situation gets tougher. Not only do the parents have to figure out how transportation is going to work for physical visits, the long-distant parent has to figure out how to stay connected to the child during the long gaps between being together. Skype, Facetime, and other digital options allow for more satisfying long-distance interaction than the limitations of traditional phone calls, and text messaging can help child and parent have spontaneous interaction. But let’s get a little creative about how you can be there for your child when you can’t physically be there. Here are 10 ideas to help you rock being a long-distance parent:
Even though it is tough for you and your child to be so far away from each other for much of the year, the “distance” doesn’t have to mean “disconnect.” With a little creativity you can close up those miles, enjoy quality time with your child even when you can’t be in the same place, and rock being a long-distance parent!
Often when we hear about a friend or loved one getting a divorce, we just don’t know what to say or do. We want to be supportive, encouraging, helpful – but struggle with being presumptuous or intrusive in our attempts to offer assistance.
Recently I was invited to speak at a Stephen Ministry meeting when the group was going through training on how to minister to and assist people in the community who are dealing with divorce. The group leader asked me to help them understand the process of divorce and suggest ways to help those going through it. After two decades of practicing Family Law and working with men. women and children who are going through the process, it wasn’t difficult to come up with a list of challenges that divorcing parties often need help with!
PRIOR TO A DIVORCE ACTION BEING FILED
WHILE THE DIVORCE IS PENDING
AFTER THE DIVORCE
Child custody battles are often the most difficult part of divorce proceedings. Property can be divided or sold, debts can be assigned to one party or the other, but how custody/visitation plans are structured is much more complex. As mothers and fathers contemplate divorce or (if not married to each other) paternity actions, they often find themselves with numerous questions. They want to know how things work legally, what their rights are regarding the children, and what rights the children have. After 23 years of practicing Family Law, I have worked with hundreds of divorcing parents and noted some concerns are universal. Here are 5 questions that most parents have about custody.
Hopefully no parent is actually asking a child to make the decision of which parent they would like to live with. That’s like asking them to pick which parent they like better – it’s a lousy position to put a child in even if they have a clear preference. Having said that, most states have an age where a child can express what their preference is, but ultimately the judge still makes the final decision. The judge is not bound by the child’s request if he or she does not feel that it is in the best interest of the child to place the child as requested. The judge will take into consideration the ability of each parent to care for the child, what the environment of each is, and the reasons the child has a preference. The older a child is, the more likely the judge is to honor the child’s request if it is not detrimental to the child to do so. While each state can make its own laws regarding custody and the age at which the court gives deference to a child’s preference, many states take the position that by the time a child is twelve years old they have the maturity to express a preference and their reasons for having a preference with regard to living with one parent or the other. Even states with a stated age usually have provisions in their laws which allow the judge to make a decision contrary to the child’s request if the child does not have the maturity to properly express a preference and/or if the request would not be in the child’s best interest.
There was a time when the answer to this question would have been yes, but that is generally no longer the case. While there may be individual judges that have gender biases, most judges start with the premise that a child should have as much contact with both parents as is possible. While fathers are awarded custody more often than they once were, the general trend is toward co-parenting options. Whether it is called joint custody, co-parenting, shared parenting or another name, the intent is to ensure that the children have access to both parents and that both parents are allowed to actually parent versus being someone the children simply visit. If the parties are unable to cooperate, one parent has a history of addiction or abuse, or the parties are unable to communicate because of work or geographic hindrances, the judge will award custody to one parent and an appropriate visitation schedule to the other taking into account the specific circumstances.
Most judges try to protect children by keeping things as stable as possible in the midst of divorce and will not split up siblings casually. But custody is determined on a case-by-case and child-by-child basis. Some situations when a judge might consider splitting up siblings are (1) if children of a certain age request it, (2) if there is substantial/destructive conflicts between siblings, (3) the children have different needs that can best be met by a particular parent, and (4) other facts specific to the case that would result in it being in the best interest of the children to do so. Even if custody of the children is divided between the parents, visitation can still be synced in a way that the siblings are together on weekends, holidays and summer school breaks.
It is not likely. Judges have the discretion to speak with a child in their chambers if they want to receive information from the child and/or a child or parent has requested that the child’s input be received. Depending on the state, attorneys, the child’s Guardian Ad Litem,* or a court reporter may be allowed to be present while the child is being interviewed. The judge tries to balance the parents’ rights to due process with protecting the child from the pressure of testifying in front of parents and any repercussions that might result from testimony that displeased a parent.
Yes. There are two ways a custody order can be changed. First, if a parent believes that the judge made a legal mistake with regard to the custodial decision made at trial, the ruling can be appealed if done so within the time frames set forth in the state law. Second, and more common, is if there is a change of circumstance since the original order that affects the best interest of the child. Typical changes that could warrant modifying the custody order include a problem arising with the custodial parent, a parent relocating, or a child getting older and expressing a preference. In either case, a Family Law attorney should be consulted to ensure that the parent understands what needs to be proved, what the legal procedure is, and the chances of being able to accomplish the desired modification.
*A Guardian Ad Litem is a representative for the child who serves the dual role of representing the child's position and advocating for what's in the best interest of the child even if it conflicts with the child's preference.
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One of the toughest situations to deal with in the aftermath of divorce is holiday visitation with the children. As if the holiday season by itself wasn’t stressful enough, dealing with only having the children for part of the holiday in addition to making sure they get to where they’re suppose to be for the other part of the holiday can send stress levels right off the chart! As a Family Law attorney who often represents children, I field a lot of calls from frustrated parents this time of year – and here’s what I tell them. Whether there are hard feelings to or from your ex or you both get along great, these five tips can make the holiday visitation less stressful for you, your ex, and – more importantly – your children.
1. Transition your child before the doorbell rings. I’m often told by parents that the child just doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s for the holidays, they want to stay right where they are. This may be true, and/or there may be a legitimate reason the child feels this way. But often the reluctance to go is because they are enjoying what they’re doing or are afraid they’re going to miss out on something. To overcome the latter two, prepare ahead of time. Watch how you talk about activities the child won’t be a part of – don’t tell him “how sad” you will be that he can’t be there for them. There’s nothing to be sad about (on the outside!) because he gets to spend time with the other parent, too. Make sure the game being played or movie being watched ends a substantial amount of time before the other parent picks up to avoid the child ending up being resentful that he has to “stop having fun” when it’s time to go.
2. Have the extra packing done, too. Most people don’t wait until the last minute to pack up the child’s visitation suitcase with clothes, nightwear and toiletries. But those little last-minute round-ups that leave the ex cooling his or her heels at the door (deliberately??) are unnecessary. Make a checklist as you think of things the child needs to have with her (medicine, gifts for the other family members, that book for the report she has to write over the break) and make sure they are packed and ready to go well ahead of time. Give your child the gift of a stress-free (or at least less-stressed) transition – one where they don’t start out with an irritated parent annoyed at them or grumbling about you.
3. Limit incoming phone and text message interruptions. Unless there is a court-ordered (or previously agreed-upon) phone visitation time, you don’t have to answer phone calls from the other parent during meals, gift exchanges, movies, family gatherings and other events where it would be disruptive to the child. I am not suggesting you don’t allow phone visitation during your holiday period with your child. On the contrary, I’m suggesting you plan for it. Have the child call the other parent, or answer calls, during times when the child is not engaged in fun events. Initiate (or take) the calls in a quiet place or room free of distractions so that the child can enjoy his chat with the other parent and not “just get through” it.
4. Limit outgoing phone and text message intrusions. Assume your ex has read the paragraph above and try to be sensitive about the intrusiveness of your own visitation calls. While negotiating prior to the visit for set times to speak to the child via phone may seem like a good idea, psychologist Arlene Schaefer says that arrangement is “all about the parents.” She says kids don’t like to be ripped from what they’re doing to have a conversation they often don’t feel like having – which can leave the calling parent feeling slighted and resentful toward the other parent who is perceived as not encouraging the contact. The better arrangement includes flexibility – maybe an agreement for the child to call “after her shower” or in the morning while breakfast is being cooked.
5. Anticipate and plan for the obstacles. Two complaints I hear often from divorced parents is that their ex is always late for exchanges and/or the the child is tuckered out upon arrival. Whether it’s deliberate sabotage or just insensitivity, the result of chronic lateness or turning over sleep-deprived children is the same – conflict, more stress, and potentially ruined plans. You have no power to change the offender – but you can prepare for the offense. Don’t create tight deadlines on yourself by making plans that you can only be timely for if the other parent is timely. Allow plenty of time between pick-up and any event – it’s easier to “kill time” if you’re early than dealing with stress, frustration and resentment that accompany rushing to make it to wherever you’re headed. If your child routinely is tired when she arrives from the other parent’s custody, plan ahead so that she has time to take a nap before heading out for the evening’s entertainment. Or factor in some down-time on the first day of visitation. Or plan for an early evening on the night of arrival so that on the first full day of visitation everyone can hit the ground running. While it may not seem right that you should have to construct your plans around the other parent’s offending behavior, doing so totally annihilates you ex’s power to ruin your plans or create a stressful start to your holiday time with your child.
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I have written plenty about what parents do during divorce that negatively impacts their children. So I am delighted to give you some input about, and a wonderful example of, putting children first in spite of the parent’s divorce.
Judge Robert Davis shared an anecdote a few years back that left me feeling compelled to share it with every custody-battling parent and warring stepparent I have encountered since. Judge Davis was sitting in a high school auditorium. He was applauding the graduating class in the small town where he had lived and been a Family Law attorney prior to being appointed to the bench. He looked around and saw numerous former clients. Some were clustered in groups with the mom, her current spouse and family, and the dad with his current spouse and family. Others still exuded the animosity that was present during their actual divorce and sat, with their current spouses and families, on opposite sides of the auditorium. He said after each student received their diploma, they stepped down from the platform and scanned the audience. Those whose families were clustered together headed right over to the applauding loved ones. Those whose parents were separated by self-focus and distance stood uncertainly, a sudden damper on their big day, and tried to figure out which group to walk to first. With no words spoken they were being asked to pick a parent. Some could not, and instead walked straight to the familiar smile of Judge Davis.
With the same spirit as the family groups clustered together, one man recently provided a shining example of a parent who really gets it. Todd Bachman was all set to walk his precious daughter, Brittany, down the aisle to give her away to her future husband. But before taking his daughter’s arm, he grabbed the hand of her astonished stepfather, a man Todd generally didn’t get along with, and pulled the man toward Brittany. Todd told the stepdad that he, too, had participated in raising the bride and he should participate in giving away “their” daughter. According to photographer Delia Blackburn, who took the pictures below, there were a lot of moist eyes – including her own!
There was also a lot of moist eyes during the Today Show coverage of the event. To hear their two minute coverage of this heart-warming story and see some Today Show hosts passing the Kleenex, click HERE.
If you are a divorced parent, it’s not to soon to be thinking about how you can make it easy for your child to decide which direction to head toward on his or her special day.
Should children go to jail for refusing to have a relationship with one of their divorced parents? That’s close to what happened recently in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, seeming to be at her wit’s end with three children, ages 14, 10 and 9, who refused to comply with her order to have lunch with their father, were found to be in Direct Contempt of Court. They were sentenced to do “time” in a juvenile facility until they comply with the judge’s directive or until further order from the court – which Judge Gorcyca stated may stay in place until the children are eighteen.
I don’t know Judge Gorcyca or any of the participants in this case. Like most others who see the headline about children being thrown in jail for not wanting to visit a parent, I was shocked enough to do a double take. As a Family Law attorney, I immediately asked myself: “What’s the REST of the story here?”
Reading the article at Yahoo Parenting and hearing the Detroit’s Fox Station report still left me with more questions. How could a family law judge who cared about children throw them in jail just because they felt strongly about not visiting with a parent? Especially when one, the 14-year-old, states that he has seen his father be violent and hit his mother?
From what I have witnessed, one parent deliberately undermining the relationship between the children and the other parent is often a result of a parent hating the other spouse to the point that they can’t (or choose not to) see the damage their venomous behavior has on the children. They hate the other parent more than they are concerned with the emotional well-being of their children. Although most parents engaging in such behavior will swear that they are doing it for their children, to protect their children from that other horrible parent. The deliberate creation of the “us against him/her” culture can be a bonding force between children and a parent which the offending parent selfishly enjoys. When the outcast parent is a good person who really loves the children, it is a devastating loss for children.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, following are examples I’ve heard from parents talking to children I have represented. Imagine each being said over and over in different ways and reinforced by other like sentiments:
So, when someone with years of experience in dealing with such-minded people sees the damage being caused to children who are being taught to harbor hatred toward someone who loves them, is there any way possible they can undo that damage? Apparently Judge Gorcyca fervently hoped that if the children just had lunch with their father, there would be potential for the relationships to take a turn. But the kids weren’t having it. Even though the mother (apparently for the first time) was encouraging the children to do as the judge was ordering, the children just would not. Even in a desperate moment the mother couldn’t undo the conditioning she had fostered that, the judge implied, had gone on for years.
Defying a judge’s order while in court is, indeed, Direct Contempt of Court – punishable in most states by both fines and incarceration. The judge in this case actually sentenced each of the children to be housed in a juvenile facility called Children’s Village, emphasizing they would have to use public bathrooms, lose all comfort, and not see their mother or their siblings. At the time of the article, the children had been incarcerated for two weeks and their mother (and anybody on her side) was prohibited from visiting.
Is this going too far? What are the alternatives if counseling doesn’t work and the offending parent will not cooperate in facilitating a relationship between the children and the other parent? From the children’s point of view, doesn’t it seem like this is just one more horror that is the father’s fault, thus, increasing their animosity toward him? Is there a way to punish the offending parent without punishing the now-defiant children?
If you want to refer to this as a rant, know that it’s not a rant about a judge who screwed up and, in my opinion, should modify a particular ruling. It’s a rant about selfish parents who get so consumed by their own animosity for the other parent – whether justified or not – that they cruelly take away the child’s other parent by deliberately alienating the child from that parent. They let their children think that one half of the team that created them is scum. What, long term, does that child think of himself? How does that prepare daughters and sons to have healthy relationships with future spouses and offspring? How does it accomplish anything good for anybody – except maybe creating satisfaction for the parent who “won” by getting his or her children to hate the ex-spouse with the same intensity that he or she does?
This article has nothing to do with domestic abuse and other terrible situations spouses sometimes find themselves in – circumstances that require they protect their children. This article is about parents who use society’s loathing for such situations to their advantage by manufacturing facts and manipulating children to accomplish their end goals of punishing their exes – or just getting those exes out of the picture any way they can so they don’t have to share the children.
Who should REALLY go to jail under such circumstance??
In case you’re wondering whether or not judges care about the orders they issue regarding your children, I’m here to tell you that, from what I have seen in over two decades of practicing Family Law, most of them do. That’s not to say they’re not thoughtful about the rulings that affect you and your soon-to-be ex. It’s just that you and your spouse chose to be married, and at least one of you is choosing not to be. The children had no choice in either matter. And yet they are the ones who are going to have to go back and forth between two homes. And they are the ones who have to see the two people they love more than all else in turmoil. It rocks their world.
Although there are ways to reduce the world-rocking, there is no way to unrock it no matter how necessary the divorce may be or how well everybody is getting along. But there are ways to rock it so violently that it tips right over. Sometimes in the midst of the raw emotions that go with divorce, parents don’t notice the effect on their children when they talk badly about the other parent. Judge Michael Haas noticed. And many other Family Law judges have noticed. I don’t know the now-retired Judge Haas, but I have witnessed the truth of the words he shared in the timeless article* below:
Teachers can be a Guardian Ad Litem’s best friend. When I represent a child whose parents are going through a custody battle, charged with the duty of investigating for the purposes of making recommendations to the Judge about custody and visitation, I look forward to talking to the child’s teacher.
After reviewing all the court documents, getting as much information as possible from each parent, and spending time with the child, I find it helpful to get the perspective of somebody who cares about the well-being of the child but who is not vested in the outcome of the court battle. Who better than a teacher – the individual who spends time with the child daily, interacts with the parents, and has a birds-eye view of how the child interacts with others.
Most of the teachers I have contacted over the years have been very generous with their time when it comes to looking out for one of their students. Often giving up lunch hours or planning time, meeting me before school or inviting me to call them at home in the evening, they contribute unpaid hours to giving feedback that is invaluable to helping an outsider get the bigger picture with regards to what’s going on in a child’s life.
Most of the teachers stated they found it helpful to know if something significant is going on in a student’s life such as a custody battle or dealing with the loss of an absentee, sick or deceased parent. It helps them understand new behaviors and allows them to better assist the child during challenging times. What they don’t find helpful is unnecessary drama.
1. I’m happy to provide feedback about any concerning changes and/or progress your child is making during challenging times. However, my focus is on your child’s welfare, not your court action – and I don’t want to be dragged into the latter.
2. Don’t badmouth your ex to me. I’m not going to take sides. And frankly, that behavior makes me wonder more about you than the person you’re complaining about.
3. Please don’t start (or end) a sentence with “Don’t tell my ex.” I’m not your confidant.
4. Don’t tell me what to tell your ex, either. I’m not your go-between.
5. Don’t ask me to “fudge” if your ex asks something.
6. Don’t put words in my mouth, misquote me, exaggerate information I provided, or use me in any other way to support your position on any given child-related issue. I don’t want to be in the middle of your feud.
7. I don’t want to testify in court. Your child is important – but so are the other 20 left sitting in the classroom with a substitute teacher who is unfamiliar with the lesson plan of the day while I sit around at the courthouse waiting for “my turn” to be questioned and challenged about my observations regarding your child.
8. I see the sadness in your child when you talk about their other parent in a negative way.
9. Don’t have your child give me messages about the other parent. It hurts them to do so.
10. Don’t embarrass your child by being ever-present so that you can assert in court you’re the better parent. I appreciate your help in the classroom, rotating with the other parents. Don’t overdo it.
11. Don’t over-provide in hopes that your child will see you as the fun/special parent. If you are asked for a bag of candy, don’t bring six. If you are asked for a dozen cupcakes, don’t show up with aprons for the whole class. This “fairy godmother” syndrome makes your child stick out and makes the other children feel their contributions are less significant.
12. Don’t increase my work load by asking for daily reports in hopes of finding something to use in your custody battle against the other parent.
13. I don’t keep score on how many times each of you has been in to ask a question or participate in an activity. I recognize that many parents work during the day and the fact that one does some things more than the other is typical – and you won’t get me to say otherwise.
14. Let your new spouses know that parenting is not a competition. If they know the bio parent is chaperoning a field trip, do they really need to be there, too? Is their purpose to show off to the parent how close they are to the child? If there is tension, jealousy, or any other sort of conflict, it ruins the outing for your child. And it is distracting for the other adults who are trying to focus on the children.
15. Don’t make me do everything twice. Unless there are safety issues involved, I’m going to copy you both on emails. And please use our school website to stay abreast of activities.
16. I do notice if your child is suddenly disheveled, smells, is habitually late, is falling asleep in class, has an attitude change, has behavioral changes, seems depressed. When I pass on such info, it is to alert you to a problem, not to provide intel, pick sides, or make accusations.
17. Your child doesn’t want to haul his overnight stuff around in his backpack. There is limited space in my classroom and things like that have to be stowed behind my desk. And think about it – how would you feel if you opened your briefcase in a meeting and your pajamas popped out?
Children anticipate the holidays eagerly – gifts, special food, no school – what’s not to like? They are often oblivious to the stress adults may experience this time of year. Unless they have to divide their holidays between two warring parents. Nothing sucks the joy out of the season for a child faster than having to listen to divorced parents bickering about whose turn it is for visiting days, when the time should start, when the time should end, what their expectations are, and what their current (less than pleasant) opinion is of the other parent.
When I serve as a Guardian Ad Litem (an attorney who represents the best interest of the children during a custody dispute), one of the duties I am charged with is recommending custody and visitation plans to the Judge. I have had more opportunities than I would have liked over the years to hear about what stresses out children during the holidays that are split between two households. When talking to my children “clients” about their concerns, I often ask: “If you could tell your parents anything you wanted about this, and you knew nobody would get mad or have their feelings hurt, what would you tell them?” Following are some of the answers I hear often.
1. I don’t want to have to pick. It’s not your child’s job to come up with a holiday itinerary. Get with the other parent and have a plan that takes into account the special events you know your child would enjoy participating in even if it requires a deviation from the formal custody plan. Children are often very aware of the tension between the two parents. Asking them to select what activities or time frames they want to be at one house or the other sometimes makes them feel they are being asked to declare which parent they would rather be with. And they don’t want to. They don’t want to hurt feelings, tick somebody off, or create further conflict between the adults.
2. I don’t want to hear you say mean things about my other parent. Truth is not a defense to this selfish act. Badmouthing the other parent or making snarky remarks about their bimbo or controlling significant other is always harmful for your child. Doing so in conjunction with holiday plans robs the child of the joy that should come with such preparation.
3. It hurts me when you tell me what I’m missing out on. If you know the child can’t be with you for a particular event, whether it’s because it just doesn’t work out or the other parent is being totally unreasonable, buffer them from the hurt. Telling them how much they’ll be missed while the others are having fun, or how “but for” that other parent they could join in, doesn’t hurt the refusing parent – it hurts the child. It’s a cruel thing to do.
4. You make me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with my other parent. You should be encouraging a good relationship with the other parent. Undermining the value of that relationship with carefully crafted sentences such as “you have to go to your mom’s” or “we’ll do that when you get to come back home from your dad’s” does not go unnoticed.
5. You make me feel guilty about what I cost. Hearing references (digs?) about the limited gifts/festivities because you pay so much child support out, or don’t receive the amount you are suppose to receive, could have the desired effect of alienating the child from the other parent. But it could also result in the child feeling bad about himself, guilty about the lack you are suffering, and sad that he has to spend more time at your house feeling bad and guilty. Don’t talk about your child support gripes to or within the hearing of your child. Feel free to extend this rule past the holiday season.
6. When you’re late, it causes problems for me. You may not care how long your ex sits parked somewhere waiting for you to show up to the visitation exchange, but your child does. You have created a frustrating transition – your child now gets to hop in the car with a (potentially) angry parent who may be in a position of having to rush to get to specific plans. Not fair. Potentially not safe. Sure there are emergencies and weather issues that cause delays. But often being late is just a result of poor planning or vindictiveness.
7. I don’t like having to leave in the middle of things. Stop the tug-of-war over dividing the actual day if it is not easily divided or breaks into main-event activities. Instead of cutting the celebration short at the other parent’s house, celebrate the holiday before or after the calendar date. Your child does not mind having two celebrations. In addition, being considerate of your child’s time with the other parent gives you an opportunity to emphasize the spirit of the actual holiday – joy, thankfulness, generosity of spirit – that is being observed.
8. It’s not fair that you give me stuff then tell me I can only use it at your house. If it’s new, they want to wear it, use it, play with it and show it off. Having them take it off or leave it behind so that it “doesn’t get left” at the other parent’s is like taking the gift back. It’s either theirs or it isn’t. You refusing to allow them to take it with them (so they look forward to coming back? to ensure the other parent doesn’t benefit from it in any way?) is more about you than the child you gave the comes-with-strings-attached gift to.
9. Sometimes I’m super tired after leaving your house. But then, maybe that’s your intention? Do you want to start your own holiday visitation with a child who is so tired she’s dragging or crashes half-way through dinner, missing out on family festivities? Probably not. Don’t schedule so much while she is with you, or keep her up so late the night before the exchange, that she can’t enjoy the beginning of her visitation at the other household.
10. I don’t always want to talk to you when you call. He knows you love him. Calling him every day when he’s with the other parent or, worse, calling multiple times a day, intrudes on the activities of the other household. Setting specific times for daily calls has everybody watching the clock instead of enjoying their time together. I’m not saying never call. I’m saying make it reasonable and recognize sometimes (often?) the call is more for your sake than the child’s.
While most of these points are true at any time, the holiday season often evokes feelings that heighten the usual sensitivities when having to co-parent children from two different households and, possibly, with someone you don’t like. When in doubt about any behavior or words you are contemplating with regard to holiday visitation, ask yourself the following questions: Which course of action benefits my child more? Which creates the best memory for him?
Allowing your children a conflict-free holiday season – one where they are free to love and celebrate at both households – is the best gift you can give them.
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Divorce affects children in a myriad of ways. Just because they don’t seem depressed or their grades don’t crash doesn’t mean they are unscathed by what is going on around them. As a matter of fact, more than one psychologist I consulted with when representing children (whose parents are going through divorce) has told me that grades going up during this time can actually be a red flag – it could indicate an increased focus on one small section of the child’s world that he can control when there is so much chaos in his environment.
Divorce for adults can be difficult, painful, and confusing. For children, we have all that plus a lack of understanding regarding the reasons or need for divorce and a lesser ability to process life events.There’s not an easy way to get everybody through it. But there are some things you can do to help make it less difficult for your child. Here are five.
1. Let teachers and child care workers know about your family situation. They spend a significant amount of the day with your child and might pick up on behavioral changes in their environments that they could alert you to. It also allows them to understand changes in your child’s attitude or demeanor which might otherwise be attributed to willful misbehavior.
2. Explore support groups. While counseling can be helpful and sometimes necessary for children, support groups serve a different purpose. There are many good programs available that help children transition through divorce by participating in groups with other children their age that are experiencing the same thing. This is not a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. It is an opportunity for children to see they are not the only ones dealing with this, it is not their fault, and to participate in exercises that educate them about how to deal with some of the emotions they are dealing with. Calm Waters, one such program in Oklahoma City, offers such a program with separate sessions available for the parents at the same time to receive information about the topic being covered in the children’s session. You can find such programs in your own area by asking school counselors, your attorney, or court staff for recommendations.
3. Talk to a children’s counselor yourself. Make an appointment to sit down with a good children’s counselor to get advice. They can educate you on norms and behaviors that may manifest themselves for children of different ages as well as make suggestions for ways to share age-appropriate information about the process. They can also make recommendations for activities and reading materials that may be helpful to your children.
4. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. The children are dealing with enough negative changes they don’t need negative words, feelings and attitudes heaped upon them, too. If you have it in you, you might take this one step further and go out of your way to be positive about the other parent and the child’s relationship with that parent.
5. Don’t expose them to romantic relationships. No matter how long you have been separated from the other parent or how convinced you are the current flame will be your future spouse. Allow them time to process the changes going on in their own family before foisting new ‘family’ upon them. There are so many negatives that can come from such exposure – confusion, anger, blame, lack of trust, aligning themselves with the non-dating parent – that when to introduce such a person to the children may be one of the topics you want to discuss at your meeting with the children’s counselor.
Related article you might find helpful: Divorce Through a Child’s Eyes: Children and Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should Never Say