Divorce Ends Marriages…But Families Endure…
“Children need and deserve the love, care,
and support of both their parents”
Divorce is said to be one of the most traumatic experiences in the life of a person. Not only is it traumatic for the spouses but also for the children. In our current society it is not difficult see what the effects of divorce have on spouses, families and children. The ripple effect of a divorce rolls into the lives of most of the extended family members and close friends. As a family law attorney I see the effects of divorce every day. What parents should realise is that although the spousal relationship may end at divorce, the parental relationship will endure for a lifetime. The more acrimonious the break-up the more difficult will it be for the parents to parent their children in future. It is therefore of utmost importance that spousal conflict should bow for the sake of the best interests of the children, sooner rather than later. As a matter of fact, all that children want is to be happy. Unfortunately in many divorces it is the parents that act like children.
Here are some pointers for parents:
- Try to resolve your conflicts without putting your kids in the middle. Be objective about your children’s needs (do not confuse them with your own). Resolve a conflict sooner rather than later.
- Treat the other parent with respect, like you want to be treated. Set an example for your children. Our children imitate our behaviour. The disrespect that you show toward the other parent will be played out by the child in his own life. It’s extremely important for a child’s healthy development to have respect for authority figures, including both parents.
- Know your boundaries. When it comes to your children, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell yourself what they’ are doing while they are with the other parent, well it is actually none of your business, unless they will be physically or psychologically harmed, it probably is none of your business.
- Communicate regularly about the children with the other parent. There are lots to share. When children are still small, the other parent needs to know the basics when parenting responsibilities are being transferred. The worst-possible scenario is that a lack of communication may lead to a child not being picked up after school or day care, or important medical treatment being disrupted.
- Demonstrate positive conflict resolution to your children. You can use conflict as an opportunity to show your children how to resolve issues in a responsible manner.
- Do not allow all of the parenting tasks to fall on one parent. Things that are out of balance usually don’t work well. Don’t expect the other parent to be in charge of all of the communicating, extra purchases for your child or all of the discipline that needs to be done.
- Be a consistent parent – in disciplining, feeding and caring for your children. It really makes transitions from one household to the other easier, it minimizes the outbursts from children after visits at the other parent. Respect the other parent’s parenting approaches, and do recognize that while consistency is optimal, differences are okay. Children can distinguish that something that’s okay at Dad’s house may not be okay at Morn’s house.
The various ages and how children react to divorce:
Zero to One Year
Babies at this age begin to form attachments, so it is important to minimize changes and disruptions in their lives and show them love and affection. It’s important that they spend time with both parents so they can form attachments with both. Signs of distress can be excessive crying, problems with feeding or sleeping, and withdrawal.
One to Three Years
At this age children become more mobile and gaining communication skills. They are also able to recognize close adults, so they are sensitive to separation. These kids need consistency in routine and patience from their parents to safely explore their environment. Signs of distress are nightmares, mood changes, and changes in toileting.
Three to Five Years
Kids at this age believe they are the center of the universe, and so they feel responsible for the family split. Parents need to be positive during exchanges, keep a consistent schedule, and tell the kids that the divorce or split is not their fault. Signs of distress include toileting and sleep problems.
Five to Ten Years
Kids at this age are entering school and forming relationships outside the family. They may try to reunite parents and may feel and act out intense anger. Parents should develop a schedule that allows for consistency with school and extracurricular activities, and support their kids’ interests and friendships. Signs of distress at this age include expressions of anger, drop in school performance, sleep problems, and physical complaints.
Ten to Twelve Years
Pre-teens tend to see things in black and white terms, and so may align themselves with one parent. Parents should encourage these kids to love both parents and support their kids’ school and other activities. Signs of distress in pre-teens may include loss of interest in friends, becoming a perfectionist, depression, and isolation.
Early Adolescence (Thirteen to Fifteen Years)
Teens will often prefer to spend more time with friends than family, so allow room in the parenting plan for this. These teens need firm but fair guidelines and positive role models. They may also want to be included in creating the parenting plan. Signs of distress in this age group may include excessive anger or isolation, difficulty with school or peers, alcohol and drug use, and sexual acting out.
Late Adolescence (Sixteen to Eighteen Years)
Teens in this age group are learning to be independent to prepare for the separation from their parents, but they still need support and rules. These teens may also want to be included in creating the parenting plan. Watch for signs of distress, including reduction in school performance, difficulty with peers, alcohol and drug use, and sexual acting out. If parents aren’t able to talk, your teen can say, “I’m spending tonight at mom’s (dad’s) house,” and you won’t know if they’re really there.