Divorce is stressful not only for adults, but children too. Children are the unwitting casualties of divorce, and it should be your goal to protect them at all costs while going through your divorce and during the rest of their childhood. That being said, it can be your most challenging task when faced with a (soon-to-be-former) spouse that is angry and/or vindictive. The reactions you may receive from your children) may differ greatly depending on the child and circumstances surrounding the breakup. Fortunately, parents can help their kids during a divorce. Here's how:
Reassure Your Children
Reassure your children that both parents love them (do this early and do it often); tell them directly that the divorce is not their fault and that everything will be okay. In most cases, you should attempt to come up with a game plan (or "parenting plan") so that both parents can be actively involved in your children’s activities. Also, most Courts offer “parenting coordination classes” such as “Parents and Children Together” that can be taken to help you work with the other parent for the betterment of the children; take advantage of these classes even if they are not mandated by the Court, and even if your former spouse does not participate. Discuss any potential plans or agreements with your respective attorneys, and seek their input prior to making a final commitment. Do not sign anything without talking to your lawyer first.
Avoid Involving the Children in the Dispute
Do not involve your children in legal discussions. The financial and legal details of the divorce will only serve to upset and distress your children. Children should not be permitted to overhear your arguments and discussions about legal, financial, or emotional issues relating to the divorce. If your children are older, take care to safeguard any paperwork related to the divorce by storing it out of the way. Children should not be informed about what is going on in court and generally should not be asked to make a decision to choose one parent over the other. Your children should not be encouraged to shuttle messages back and forth between their parents; instead, you should communicate directly, politely, and calmly with the other parent about any parenting issues (even if your spouse is rude or unresponsive with you). Never bring your children to Court without prior Court approval. You will only aggravate the Court and upset your children.
Get Along with Your Former Spouse
Do not insult or talk negatively about your (soon-to-be-former) spouse in front of, to, or around your children. This is harmful and detrimental to your children. In extreme cases, it is sometimes referred to as "Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)", and can ultimately be used as grounds to take away custody of your children from you. You should encourage your spouse to be the best parent that he or she can be, even if your spouse was not a particularly good husband or wife. Children need both parents; driving a wedge between your child and the other parent will do grave damage to both or may backfire and cause the child to resent you and defend the other parent. Sometimes the other parent simply withdraws from the relationship altogether; only in the rarest of circumstances is this good for your child. The majority of children charged with crimes in our juvenile justice system do not have the active involvement of both parents. Keep in mind that your child’s parenting style as an adult is based largely on what he or she learns as a child.
Keep the Routine the Same
Try to maintain the status quo during the divorce as much as possible. The children have grown to expect such routines from you, and you will cause unnecessary stress if you decide to change all things that are familiar to them. If the divorce does not require moving them out of their house, changing schools, or moving to another city, it is not a good time to make these or other changes. If your children have friends they like to play with, family members that they want to see, or adults involved in their lives (that you approved of prior to the divorce), do not cut off those relationships simply because they may be "more friendly" with (or related to) your spouse. Your children should be encouraged to contact these people by telephone or email if they cannot visit in person. You must be the bigger person about these matters. Take the high road, rather than the low one that is so often traveled.
Be a Parent to Your Child
Do not dump your emotional baggage on your children. If you are angry with your spouse, have resentment toward your spouse, or are saddened by his or her actions, you should not discuss these extreme emotions with your children. Your child is not your friend, buddy, and certainly not your counselor or therapist. Casting them in this role only puts undue pressure on them. You are the parent and your children expect you to be in control at all times. If you are out of control, you cannot parent the way you should. Your children need you to be engaged most of all during this emotionally difficult time. If you need to discuss your feelings, hire a counselor or speak with a close friend or adult relative. An added benefit of putting your children first during this process is that it keeps you from wallowing in self-pity and helps move you along in the healing process.
Get Agreements with Your Former Spouse Regarding Raising the Child
Parents should discuss, agree, and then mutually enforce appropriate limitations concerning the use of cell phones, computers, video games, television, and similar electronic devices or modes of communication. You should include what ratings are acceptable for television, movies, and video games, as well as appropriate curfews or bedtimes.
Don't Criticize the Other Parent
In your resentment toward the other spouse you may be inclined to seek reassurance from your children that they favor you over the other spouse. Do not criticize the other parent. Do not permit, encourage, or allow your children to criticize the other parent. The other parent's failures in life (financial, psychological, relational, physical or emotional limitations, or legal problems) should not be discussed with the children, unless it is first brought up by the child, and only then after a discussion is had with the other parent about the nature and extent of the disclosures to be made to the children.
Never Introduce New "Significant Others" During a Divorce
Never ever, ever introduce new “significant other” into your children’s lives during or even shortly after the divorce. This will confuse them, upset them, and will make them very angry and resentful. Take this time to concentrate on the children and building your relationship with them, rather than a new love interest.
Create a Space for Your Child
All children should have a place for their belongings in a room separate from their parents, at each parents' location. The children should be allowed to take a reasonable amount of belongings with them to the other parent’s home and they should always be permitted to return with those items that were originally in his or her possession, unless a prior agreement is made with the other parent in advance. The child must be permitted to have photographs, correspondence, and personal items from both parents in their personal space.
No Drugs, Alcohol, or Tobacco
Children should not be exposed to secondary smoke from tobacco. Children should not be present during the use or possession of illegal drugs. Parents must ensure that children are not transported in a motor vehicle by any person under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Your children deserve to be safe and secure.
The Law Offices of Erin E. Dixon is an Estate Planning, Trust, Probate, Divorce and Family Law firm serving Southern California with offices in the Santa Clarita Valley and the South Bay; http://www.erinedixon.com/. Before retaining an attorney, see their rating on http://www.avvo.com/.