Sunday, September 18, 2011

Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce

People dream about falling in love,getting married,starting a family,and living happily ever after.Nobody dreams about getting divorced,tearing that family apart,and sharing custody of the children you love with an ex you're angry with.I always strongly encourage parents to work it out if you possibly can.The facts are that in the U.S.,half of all marriages do,sadly, end in divorce.

If you do have to go through a divorce,it is incredibly important to pay attention to your child's developmental stage and needs as you transition through the divorce process and beyond.Parents need an adult listener to talk to during this difficult time.Your child needs a good relationship with both you and your ex-spouse.It is easy and tempting for adults in the painful trauma and loss of divorce to reach out to their children for support.Don't do it.The boundaries between adult and children are incredibly important.Long-term it's only doing more damage to your child to try to get them to align with you and support your position against the other parent.

Parents separating and the setting up of two---rather than one--households,can feel like a free fall for children and for teens.It's upsetting to deal with all the change and transition between the households.Try to get the focus back on the children or teens as soon as you can.Reestablishing routines,such as bedtime,storytime,family meals,game night or movie night,homework times and places,worshipping as a single parent family are all helpful.

Minimize distractions.You are more needed than ever by your children in the time period during the separation and divorce,so this is not a good time to date someone new and add an additional change for your child or children.Limit your work hours the best you can when the chidren are with you.

Watch out especially for your oldest child or a child of your own gender,who may want to get close and partner you emotionally.It's not their job! Over time,they will be so grateful if you protect what is remaining of their childhood instead of having them make you feel better.Get professional counseling if you are having trouble doing this.You really do want your child or children to have the very best relationship they can have with both you and their other parent.

Children and teens need to feel reassured that both you and their other parent still love them, and that they didn't cause the problems.Be aware of any leakage of anger and hostility about your former partner.Count on even small children listening to your cell phone calls.I have had children tell me they hate hearing one parent badmouth the other on phone calls to friends.Some children even figure out a parents codeword for the ex-partner.In general,don't blow off steam about the child/children's other parent when they are with you.It takes self-discipline,but you will help get your children through this with less trauma.

Structural family therapists note that the family is destabilized in a divorce,and one or more children will probably want to leave the sibling subset and come join the remaining adult in the home in the executive unit.Don't let this happen,and instead do the personal growth to become a strong and capable single-parent.You will be so glad later that you didn't lean on your child or children.Your goal should be to help the children to continue to grow and develop as normally as possible,despite your divorce.Teens are especially vulnerable when parents divorce,because they are so aware of everything,and they are trying to individuate from the family just as the family they always knew is disolving.

Longitudinal studies of the children of divorce lead by Center for the Family in Transition research psychologist Judith Wallerstein show us that children of divorce have their own grief process,apart from their parents grief.Children of divorce often reeperience their grief at various developmental milestones in their own lives.Children fare better if both parents stay invoved--financially,emotionally,and physically.

It can be helpful for your child or children to speak with a therapist with special expertise in treating children and teens.It is important that the therapist is not aligned with mom or dad,but is a safe place for the young person to sort out their own feelings about the changes in their family,and to help them adjust.

Parents could also use support:parent coaching,a divorce support group,and/or individual counseling.Even a little coaching can make a huge difference in staying on-track with your parenting role and working through your own feelings about the divorce.

Divorce means loss for adults and for children.How things are handled,and using care in maintaining adult/child boundaries will help stop the emotional bleeding,and help everyone move along to have a good life anyway,despite the divorce.

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