One of the benefits of the collaborative divorce process is that it allows the parents to really focus on what is truly best for their children. This is done by looking at the children’s interests and needs and, in some instances, using a child specialist to assist the parents in understanding what is best for the children.
Glenn E. Tanner is a lawyer in Spokane who publishes a blog entitled “Collabortive Divorce Spokane,” which can be found at http://collaborativedivorcespokane.blogspot.com.
On his blog he recently published the following list of ways to help kids during a divorce:
1. Tell them about the separation together. Don’t blame each other for the separation. Plan what you’re going to say and rehearse it.
2. Tell them before someone else does.
3. Take care of yourself. If you are too tired, too stressed, stretched too thin, it is hard to be a good parent. If you have an addiction, it will be hard for you to be present when needed.
4. Don’t argue in front of the children.
5. Don’t make assumptions about the other parent. Parents sometimes change their behaviors when the separation occurs. Don’t assume the way the parent has acted int he past is the way the parent will continue to behave. Don’t assume the parent will act differently than before either however. Check in and talk with the other parent, ask what she/he expects and wants in a certain situation. You may be pleasantly surprised.
6. Keep the children’s best interest in mind. What is “fair” from the parent’s perspective may have nothing to do with what is in the child’s best interest. An infant, who has not been weaned, may need the Mother to sleep on the couch at the Father’s house until the child is weaned even though neither the Mother or the Father are pleased about having the Mother sleeping on the Father’s couch. Adjustments to divorce occur faster if you can keep the children’s interest in place. Otherwise, the focus is more on the dysfunctional emotions that are important to the parents, such as hurt and anger, rather than what the children need. Worse, an overemphasis on your own issues, bubbles over and artificially becomes the child’s issue. For instance, a parent is hurt by the existence of the other parent’s new partner. Rather than recognizing that as the hurt parent’s issue, suddenly it becomes a safety issue for the child to spend time with the new partner.
7. Address how the separation impacts the child. Children want to know if they will be okay, have enough food, will change schools, have to move, will be able to keep their friends, etc. “Divorce” doesn’t mean anything to the child or worse, means something they saw on television or something their friends told them. Every child is different and children at different development stages have different needs. There are lots of guides on line about how to tell children with different needs.
8. Let them know that Mom and Dad are okay.
9. Explain that emotions are okay. It will be impossible to hide all of your emotions. Let your child know it is natural and okay for you to be sad, to feel a loss or cry at times and that the emotion will pass and does not mean the child has to worry about you. You don’t have to be “super-parent.” Make sure you label the emotion appropriately so they child knows it is not about them. However, it is possible to tell the children too much. Be aware that your child may try to support you and act like an adult, or the lost partner even. Relieve the child of that burden; let the child be a child and make it clear you can handle the parenting.
10. Get help. Most parents don’t know the kind of tension they will be going through, what to expect and what other parents have experienced. It is better to get the input of a counselor on whether a child is doing all right with the divorce before you discover they haven’t done their homework for six weeks or have reverted to wetting their bed. There are divorce support groups. Knowing what others have felt can be empowering. Ask friends and family for help. Simple things like transportion or getting help with cooking can make life much easier.
11. Give children permission to bring up the separation. Most divorcing couples spend very little time talking to their children. Minutes. Let the children know that they can ask questions. Ask them how they are doing with the separation weeks and months after your first discussion.
12. Normalize what the child feels. It is natural and reasonable for a child to be worried and scared during the divorce. It’s okay that they feel that way. But let them know they don’t have to let their emotions control them because there are rational reasons to feel differently.
13. Don’t criticize the other parent in front of the child. Every time you criticize a parent, the child is effected. The child may feel they need to protect the criticized parent or may feel the criticism is about them too.
14. Try to establish routines. Mom and Dad’s house ideally but that is usually not possible and it is not the most important thing. Even if the routine is different at the other parent’s house, support the other parent.
15. Talk with the other parent about how you will introduce new partners to the child.
16. Open the door with school, family, and day care to contact you if they see problems with the children. Many times you will not be contacted until it is too late or unless there is a serious problem. If you open the door earlier, problems can be nipped in the bud before they become bigger problems.
17. Recognize that you have a powerful impact and influence on your children and lots of resources and help available to you if you don’t have all the answers.