The American Psychology Association estimates between 40 and 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce, the majority of which occur in families with children under the age of 18. Although everyone reacts to divorce differently, and parenting after divorce can be difficult, statistics show children of divorced parents are 15 percent more likely to experience prolonged emotional and behavioral issues than children of non-divorced parents. To minimize the trauma for their children, divorced parents must take purposeful steps to create a safe and nurturing environment for co-parenting after the split.
Right after the split, divorced parents must attempt to resolve their lingering problems and create a feeling of respect. Although you are no longer in a marriage together, you are still parents together. You will still have to make many important joint decisions about your children and how to raise them, which requires the ability to listen and compromise.
Depending on the circumstances of the divorce, mutual respect between you and your ex-partner may be easier said than done. Parents who want to co-parent eventually but have a complicated relationship with their ex-spouse often start out by “parallel parenting.” In this arrangement, both parents assume total responsibility for the children when the kids are with them, making all executive decisions. There are few expectations of joint decisions or contact with the other parent. As time goes on and hard feelings fade, parents may move toward a style of “cooperative parenting” in which parents communicate in a business-like manner regarding the children and coordinate co-parenting schedules. Each parent listens to and considers the other parent’s opinions when making any decisions regarding the children. Cooperative parenting is ideal to establish consistency for the children.
Parents must foster a routine that is stable and consistent for their children. Create a schedule that includes both parents’ respective times with the kids and stick to it. Make sure each party is on time for pick ups and drop offs and keep the same meeting place each day. This allows the kids to get into a routine and create a “new normal.”
Now that you are spending as little as half of the time you used to spend with them, it is important to give them your full attention when you are with them. Children undergoing a divorce often feel they are to blame or that their parents no longer care about them in the way they used to, so it is important to dispel these feelings and make them feel just as loved as they were before. Continue to do the things you used to do with your children and start new traditions together. In turn, it is imperative to also let your children have special moments and routines with their other parent as well. Try to not get jealous when your child talks about spending time with your ex-partner. Instead, rejoice in the fact that your children are still loved unconditionally by both parents.
Regardless, none of the above will last without honest and open communication between both parents and children. Parents must move beyond petty disputes to make decisions about what is best for their child. As time passes and parents meet new love interests and possibly remarry, it is imperative to have honest conversations about how stepparents will fit into the parenting picture. What role will they play in the children’s lives? Will they have a say in parenting decisions regarding the children? These questions should be addressed early to avoid confusion and hurt feelings later.
Every relationship is different, and so is every divorce. What works for one divorced couple may not work for another couple, and vice versa. Above all, it is important to find what works for you and your ex-spouse and continue doing it. If you are having issues determining a new balance after your divorce, reach out to a family or divorce counselor. No matter what relationship issues or ugly history you have with your ex-spouse, focus on your common goal of creating a loving environment for your children that includes both parents.
Have more questions about how to help your child through your divorce? The Association of Childcare Physicians can help.
If you have questions about children in divorce, or any other overall wellness concerns, please give Dr. Shaw or Dr. Kellow a call at 618-235-2311. If you believe your child is struggling emotionally with the divorce, visit our website to set up an appointment today.