Making the Divorce Livable for Your Child
To help your child move through the divorce process as smoothly as possible, keep the following issues in mind:
- Try to make your divorce as amicable as possible. If you and your ex-spouse continue to argue over everything from your divorce settlement to child visitation, this ongoing conflict is going to interfere with the healing process. Both of you should be willing to make some compromises for the sake of your child, and do not overreact to every issue that remains unresolved between the two of you.
- Whenever possible, avoid a lengthy legal battle, which can frighten and demoralize your child. Many states require divorcing parents to meet with a mediator before custody suits are heard; try to resolve these matters out of court to save everyone time, money, and aggravation
- Some research suggests that joint custody tends to be a more favorable situation for children than sole custody, but this is true only if both parents can maintain open communication, tolerate their differences, and work cooperatively as a team. Often joint custody arrangements, which force the child to shuttle back and forth and adapt to two households, cause distress and interfere with the child's social life.
Try your best to understand the feelings of your youngster and your ex-spouse without attempting to change them. Think of your former spouse as a co-parent, and try to maintain a relationship in which you can talk with each other without a lot of discomfort. This may take some time and patience, but eventually you want to be able to work with your ex-spouse in raising your child, not to remain adversaries.
Initially, most divorced parents find it easier to discuss parenting issues by phone, since face-to-face contact may raise the emotional climate to uncomfortable levels. But whether you choose to have these conversations by phone or in person, you and your ex-spouse will need to discuss your expectations of each other and establish some ground rules for communicating through the postdivorce period.
At the outset the most important issues to deal with are visitation and access to your child. Make a schedule of when the noncustodial parent will call and visit. At the same time, you and your ex-spouse should set up a regular schedule for speaking by phone about issues pertaining to your youngster; by routinely keeping in touch with each other, the two of you can deal with your child's problems before they become crises.
Of course, these discussions should not only be about problems but should also involve sharing observations about the events in your child's life. As trust builds, you will find it easier to discuss issues related to school, health, morals, religious values, and other important matters. With time you can work out a reasonable co-parenting relationship.
Respect your child's relationship with her other parent. Allow her to spend time with your ex-spouse, without making her feel guilty because she enjoys doing so. She needs to have a relationship with both her father and her mother. Remember, one of the most important factors in helping children cope successfully is an ongoing relationship with both parents. No matter what you
personally may feel about your ex-spouse, unless he or she is abusive to your youngster, it is better for your child to see both parents regularly rather than to have only intermittent contact, or none.
If you are the custodial parent, it is your responsibility to persuade the noncustodial parent to maintain this contact with your child. If your ex-spouse breaks off his or her relationship with your youngster, seek professional help yourself to find ways to reach out and include the noncustodial parent in your child's life. Sometimes, former in-laws can help encourage an ex-spouse to take the parenting role more seriously. Court-ordered visits tend to be resented by children and do not promote positive relationships.
- Define clearly for your child any changes in her role in the family. If you are going back into the workplace, for example, you might say, "I need you to be more cooperative with Mommy, and that means helping me a little more. When we get home after I pick you up from day care, I need your help in set ting the table for dinner." However, do not make your child feel that he or she has to assume a parenting role—that is, avoid statements like "You are now the man in the family" or "Now I have to depend on you."
- Sometimes, you and/or your child can benefit from some emotional first aid during and after the divorce. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the changes in your life, or if your child has long-term difficulties adjusting to the new circumstances, talk to your pediatrician for a referral to a mental-health professional.
- During the grieving process every child may have some difficulties—for example, a B student may get C's in her classes for a while. However, if she is cutting school, getting into fights with classmates, and not completing enough work to get even passing grades, then she may need some counseling. Extreme aggression, experimentation with drugs or sex, or signs of depression (irritability, withdrawal, apathy, poor sleep, loss of interest in usual activities) also are signals of a need for help.
- The therapist may recommend treating you and your child together on matters that involve both of you. He or she might also suggest that your ex-spouse participate in therapy when problems affecting your youngster are discussed.
- The ultimate outcome of divorce for your child depends a lot on how well you can resume a routine life and a normal parenting relationship with your child.
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- Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.