By Rosalind Sedacca, BA
Divorcing parents not only face challenges that are emotionally and legally complex. Many of those issues have long-lasting consequences. Especially when it comes to the children.
Deciding on the type of post-divorce parenting -- whether it is some form of joint parenting, co-parenting, or parallel parenting is a crucial decision. The outcome is closely based on how well both parents get along before, during, and after the divorce.
Geographical proximity, the age of the children, and economic tension are additional contributing factors. Every decision made will affect the children -- and the impact can be detected in children's behavior, attitudes, and levels of self-esteem.
To help parents co-parent more effectively I've created a variety of questions that I use during coaching sessions with divorcing or divorced clients. In most cases, they work equally well not only before, but long after the divorce. If you ask and discuss these questions during mediation, it can help clients identify challenges they face, mistakes they can avoid, and stress triggers that need to be addressed to assure a better future for everyone in the family.
The more honest clients are with themselves and their former spouse, the easier it is for their children to transition successfully following the divorce.
It's advantageous when both parents discuss and answer these questions during a session together. If that's not possible they can bring the questions home to reflect on the consequences for their children if they choose conflict over cooperation with their ex.
If the other parent doesn't want to cooperate with your client in answering these questions, there's still value in sharing the questions with one parent.
All children of divorce are innocent victims. They deserve extra love, compassion, and conscious attention to their needs, especially emotionally and psychologically. Let your kids know they matter. Be there for them with a smile, kind word, attentive time spent together, and parental support either with or without your co-parent.
Very often, changing the family dynamic after divorce opens the door to more peace and less conflict in the home environment. Can we step up as parents and be more relaxed, calm, and less agitated around the kids than in the past? Can we give them more focused attention? Can we reduce their stress and find ways to generate more joy in their lives? They deserve it!
Are we making decisions that foster goodwill, harmony, and cooperation in both parent homes? Are we reducing conflict around the kids and providing activities and communication that support the children in feeling safe and cared about? Are we watching the kids notice behavior or mood changes that need our attention?
Divorce changes the form of the family but need not mean the end of the family from the child's perspective. Talk to your co-parent. As much as you may disagree about some issues, for many co-parents loving your children is a strong mutual agreement. If that's the case, discuss ways each of you can help create a happier future and support goodwill within the post-divorce family in the months and years ahead.
Parenting plans can seem intimidating. Be authentically honest in creating your child's future. No one knows your family better than you do. Put aside your anger/resentment for a while and talk about who really is best to parent the children at different times/days/stages of their life. It's the children who will benefit from the best quality of parenting they can get.
If your children experienced tough times before and during the divorce, now is the time to change that reality in their lives. Apologize when it's appropriate. Ask them how they're doing and really listen to their responses. Talk about what you can change at home to make life better. Give them permission to express their frustrations or anger inappropriate ways. Seek out a coach or support group for yourself and/or the kids to uncover new directions/options for solving problems.
One of the biggest mistakes divorced parents make is letting their children parent them. Are you using your children as confidants, sharing information only an adult should know? Are you asking your kids to be messengers for you with their other parents? Even worse, are you asking them to spy for you about what's happening in the other parent's home? Giving children these responsibilities robs them of their childhood and their innocence, even when teens. Be very careful with your words and expectations for your children at all times.
Parenting is hard enough in any family. After divorce, it's more complex. Ask yourself this vitally important question whenever a parenting decision comes along. Understand the consequences for your children if your parenting decisions are influenced or colored by the desire to hurt or get back at your former spouse.
It's hard to believe right now, but your children will grow up one day. As adults, they will judge, appreciate or criticize you for how you handled the divorce from their perspective. Did you take their feelings into account? Did your shame, guilt, or lie to them? Were you the role models they can acknowledge and respect you for? How can you give your children a happy ending? Start thinking about that today.
And last, but most important of all.
If the answer isn't clear, resounding YES, get professional guidance to clarify and shift your mindset. When anger, hatred, resentment, and dark thoughts overcome all other emotions, we are not being the caring parents our children need to help them thrive after divorce. Putting your children first is a gift they need and deserve. It may not be the easiest path, but it will generate the best outcome for everyone in the family. And, one day, when your kids have grown adults, they will THANK YOU for doing your divorce right!
With these questions as guidelines, your clients are on a straight path to creating a child-centered divorce one that honors their children's rights through cooperative, respectful joint parenting.
Rosalind Sedacca, coaches parents regarding divorce issues. She can be contacted at www.ChildCenteredDivorce.com and 561-742-3537.