A bad marriage can make parenting – and life in general – stressful. The loss of the family structure can be very upsetting and distressing for everyone involved in the major change.
Despite divorce being on the increase around the world, parents often feel at a loss when searching for practical support. They also feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid, resentful, or completely frozen in panic about how to handle the changes in their family’s way of life. Sometimes this fear manifests itself as animosity, which turns the whole divorce process into a battle, with children trapped in the middle and feeling powerless.
Divorce needn’t be like this. Parents can make positive, healthy choices during this very emotional time and make the transition less painful for everyone.
Divorce isn’t about winners and losers. It’s about working out a way to handle the separation with dignity and compassion and minimising the disruption to your children emotionally. This article offers numerous approaches and strategies for making the experience of divorce as positive and healthy as possible.
Presenting a united front: Telling the kids
I’ve worked with many parents going through divorce and one of the main worries is how to tell their children about what is going to happen and what to actually say to them. Children naturally fear that they’ll lose one of their parents in divorce or that their parents will abandon them. They also fear the changes and disruptions that divorce inevitably brings to their family. Children often blame themselves.
When a marriage becomes troubled, a couple often relies on old habits of interacting, which lead to fights rather than solutions. If those old habits didn’t lead to constructive solutions during the marriage, they’ll surely reap no better results during the divorce. You may not have been a united front while married, but you and your partner must take this opportunity – for the good of your children – to work together.
The following sections cover various activities I lead parents through to help them and their children cope with divorce.
One of the let things I ask parents to do is to work out together the answer to this critical question: What are the key messages you want to convey to your children? Consider:
• Your child’s need to feel reassured that you will both always be his parents and be there to support, nurture, guide, and love him. • Your child’s need to express himself and his feelings – this may include anger, silence, denial, bravado, or pleading. • You need to weigh up whether each parent tells each child separately, or all together. If you can manage to speak to them together, this gives and opportunity for them to see that you’re not blaming each other, that they don’t have to take sides, and that you’re both still there for them. • Think about the sort of questions your children are likely to ask. ‘Will we still see you and spend time with you?’ ‘Who will take us to football training?’ ‘Who will we live with and where will we live?’ ‘Will we have to change school?’ ‘Will we still see Grandma?’ You need to explain that at the moment you don’t have all the answers but reassure them that you’ll have more clarity and answers soon and they don’t need to worry.
From your child’s perspective
I ask parents to place a piece of paper on the floor, step onto it, and imagine they’re looking at the situation from the eyes of their child. I then ask them to answer the following questions as if they were the child:
• What do you see and hear around you at the moment? • How do you feel? • How could Mum and Dad make you feel better? • What could they do or say?
Reassurances and guarantees
I ask parents to write seven reassurances and guarantees that they can honestly give to their child in a graphic wheel. (Refer to Chapter 1 for and example of a blank wheel form.) The reassurances and guarantees are things that will help their child cope with the enormous changes that are coming.
Be honest – don’t hedge around the difficulties. Don’t give false promises that you can’t keep because you destroy their confidence and belief in you at a critical time in your relationship. Give them information but not too much – give details of things in the not-too-distant future.
I also help divorcing parents develop some co-parenting strategies. For example:
• Plan and agree on what both parents will say before they talk to their children. This helps to avoid mixed messages, which can confuse and really distress children. • Look at the benefits of telling the children together or individually. • Work on overcoming the ‘blame’ mentally and the feeling that the divorce must be someone’s fault. • Look for ways to avoid making children feel that they must take sides. • Try to take the emotional charge out of telling the children • Help each parent gain more control over his or her distressing feelings and emotions during this difficult moment.
Divorce changes – but it does not end – a family. Your children are now members of two families.
Extract taken from: Raising Happy Children for DUMMIES by Sue Atkins 2007
Every parent would like to have a happy, well- behaved child - but every parent also knows this is not often a reality! Raising Happy Children For Dummies helps you better understand your children - from toddler to teen, boys and girls - and is packed with practical tips from an experienced parenting coach to improve your parenting, your child's happiness and as a result, their behaviour.
The book helps you explore your own parenting skills, helps you to define what changes you may need to make and provides advice on how to implement new parenting habits to improve you and your family's relationships. Covering both day-to-day parenting and offering extra advice on how to help your children deal with life's tougher challenges, this is a down to earth guide from a parenting coach and mother of two, Sue Atkins.
© Sue Atkins 2007