It is possible for children to thrive after a divorce, but they need the right parental conditions. And, research shows that children raised in an environment of constant tension will be more traumatized than children raised in a tension free, divorced home. It also shows that children do best when their parents can cooperate on the children's behalf.
Shared parenting or co-parenting is the intended outcome of a parenting plan. It means that both parents will work together to raise their children even though the marriage, or romance, is over. Make no mistake, this is not a skill we naturally have. It takes time, patience, commitment and education to accomplish. The main reason for making the effort is that it helps your children deal with all of the changes in their lives when their parents divorce.
What Kind of Changes Do Children Experience?
Change in Family Structure. Divorce will mean a re-structuring of the family with all the certainty that change brings.
Lack of Money often becomes an issue as the same amount of money now has to support two households instead of one.
Loss of Friends or change in school as one or both parents have to relocate.
Telling the Children You are Getting Divorced
While there are no hard and fast rules the experts tend to agree on some basics.
Let the children know as soon as you do. Do it at a time when you have lots of time to spend with the children so the discussion isn't rushed. Don't jump the gun, wait to tell them until you are sure that you are divorcing, but don't keep them in the dark once the decision has been made.
Tell them together if at all possible. If not, the parent who has had primary parenting responsibility should be the parent to tell the children. If possible, the extended family should be included as well.
Keep it simple and straight forward. No blaming or finger pointing.
Reassure your children early and often that your divorce is not their fault and that you and your spouse still love them and always will. You must explain that the divorce is between the parents not the parents and the children. If done well, the children will eventually realize they are not responsible for the divorce nor for trying to reconcile the parents.
Give them an idea of what the future will hold such as school, future living situations, friends. Reassure them that you will do your best to minimize changes to their routines.
Acknowledge their feelings and that this is a sad and upsetting time.
When children ask "why?" realize that what they mean is "why is this happening to me?" not "why are you getting divorced?"
Consider counseling especially if your kids show signs of distress like aggression, sadness, or drop in school performance. Even if they don't your kids might want to talk to someone other than a parent about how they are feeling.
For more on telling the children you might want to check out
Again no hard and fast rules, these are the basics.
Be available to listen.
Be tolerant of your ex-spouse's parenting.
Don't be afraid to get help. Children will often experience feelings during a divorce that they don't know how to deal with. So they misbehave. A counselor or therapist can be helpful in giving them more constructive ways of expressing their feelings.
Don't fight or argue in front of the children. Experts say the amount of conflict a child experiences during and immediately after a divorce is a crucial factor in his/her adjustment.
Keep your promises and keep to the visitation schedule. Consistency is important to the children at this time. And, keeping your promises lets them know they can trust you.
Let them me children not messengers, confidantes, spies, weapons or judges. Children just aren't capable of handling the ill effects.
Take care of yourself. You can't get so caught up in everyone else's pain that you neglect yourself. Get counseling or talk to your minister or rabbi. Be kind to yourself.
Try for consistent discipline. Set up "kid rules" and "parent rules" to be followed in both houses. Kid rules can involve chores, curfew, phone and telephone use on school nights. Parent rules include such things as who does what laundry, things that need to be packed to go back and forth between houses, and car pooling.
UpToParents.org. From a secular, non-profit family charity (created by an attorney-mediator husband and counselor-mediator wife). This is an enlightening website which allows you and your spouse or co-parent to separately and confidentially complete an engaging questionnaire of what you each would choose for your children - in the aftermath of your separation or divorce.
The foundation confidentially considers your answers and choices along with those of your spouse or co-parent, and creates then forwards by E-mail to each of you: a personalized list of agreed Commitments to your children (the ones you both agree will be important to your children and will guide your future parenting). There are also four powerful exercises which accompany the Commitments, and are also highly recommended.
DivorceandChildren.com. Hosted by a nationally recognized parenting and divorce coach, Divorce and Children offers first-rate parenting after divorce articles, and practical advice of how best to meet the challenge of "redefining families" in the aftermath of divorce.
Successful Shared Parenting Requires Regular Communication Between the Parents
While not easy, especially in the beginning for shared parenting to work the parents need to communicate here are some tips from the experts:
Meet regularly to talk about the kids. Weekly is recommended but not mandatory. What is important is that you communicate on a regularly, scheduled basis. This conveys to your children that their parents are a united front when it comes to raising them.
Set a business-like tone. Think of your parenting relationship with your ex-spouse as a business partnership with the common goal of raising your children. You might not like each other but the success of your business - your children's healthy growth and development depends on your continued communication.
Keep the discussions focused on the children and focused on the future. While hard to do in the beginning it will get easier over time. This is not time for rehashing the relationship or personal discussions. If you need time for those kinds of discussions, schedule it separately.
Use email or the phone. You don't have to meet in person, particularly if you find it difficult. You can use other mediums as long as you are regularly productively communicating with each other.
Use an agenda and set a time limit. Experienced negotiators never go into a negotiation without an agenda. It helps keep the negotiations on track and productive. Some things you will likely want to cover every time like schedules, school information or behavioral issues. Some things will be covered only as needed like holiday schedules, camp plans, lessons and other activities. You can create a standard form which each of you commits to filling out before communicating. This will help focus your discussions and energies.
OurFamilyWizard.com. An on-line framework of tools to help families of divorce manage information and expenditures. Particularly helpful for parents already limiting their communication to written or electronic form, or residing far apart.
ParentingTimeCalendar.com. A simple and affordable tool to create parenting time (child custody and visitation) schedules, with standard patterns, holidays or customized lists and entries.
For more about divorcing collaboratively, click on one of the links below.