So, you and your ex have finally divided up your property, agreed on parenting time, child support and spousal maintenance and you are ready to get on with your life. Now comes the hard part! How do you adjust to your new life while ensuring that your children adjust to theirs with as few bumps in the road as possible?
Keep in mind that the first two years following a divorce will probably be the most challenging for your children. Decisions that you make now about child-rearing will have a far-reaching, often lifelong, impact on your children. There are steps that you can take to lessen the stress of these challenges and point your children in a positive direction:
1. Put Your Children First
The most important step is probably the most obvious. Their needs and their feelings will need to be a top priority and they will need to know that they can trust you to take care of both.
2. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It is very important that you let your children express their concerns but do not add to them. It is crucial that children do not feel like they are in the middle of any parental conflict. Do not make disparaging comments about the other parent or ask your child to report back on them. Co-parenting and shared decision-making are the best models for the psychological health of your children.
3. Create Boundaries
While it is true that all children need boundaries, your children will need them more than ever during this time. They will need the sense of stability that clearly- defined, fair rules and consistency will bring for their emotional well-being.
4. Be Mindful Of Your Guilt
Do not let yourself be manipulated out of a sense of guilt. Allowing extra privileges or overspending on children as compensation for the pain caused by divorce will serve to undermine the sense of stability mentioned above.
5. Implement A Clear Visitation Process
In cases where a child does not want to visit the other parent, the first choice would be to have them discuss this issue directly with the other parent. If the child is unwilling or unable to do so, arrange for them to meet with a neutral third-party such as a clergyperson, child therapist or specialized mediator.
6. Evaluate Therapy
If your children have witnessed violence or abuse in your marriage, they may need ongoing therapy.
7. Give Extra Support To The Youngest Children
Divorce Is hardest on the youngest children. It will be particularly hard if the primary caretaker has to enter the workforce post-divorce. The impact is second hardest on children who are entering adolescence. Be especially alert to the needs of children who are at these developmental stages.
8. Do Not “Spouse-ize” Your Children
Resist the temptation to take your children into your confidence about financial, relationship or other adult matters. This can create anxiety for your children and result in them feeling like they have to take care of you.
9. Do Not Overburden Older Children
Do not put too much responsibility on the older children to take care of the younger children.While some responsibility is good, too much may rob the older children of their own childhood.
10. Do Not Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Reach out to family, friends, and your community for assistance with transportation, childcare, and homework. This will also help keep some of the burden off of older children.
11. Mediate from the start
There is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate “that mediation produces more satisfaction with the divorce process, more satisfaction with the divorce outcome, a better post-divorce relationship with the spouse, and more of a sense that children’s needs are being met.” (Lori Shaw, “Divorce Mediation Outcome Results”, Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Summer, 2010, Volume 27, No 4, pgs 447-467.)”
Finally, as with so many things in life, your attitude is a key component to how your family will weather divorce. Keeping a sense of humor and approaching the experience with an open mind well focused on creative possibilities will go far to alleviate stress and bring out the positive aspects of this transition.
Carla Tourin is a mediator and Minnesota-licensed attorney. Additionally, she serves as a volunteer mediator for the Conflict Resolution Center of Minneapolis and works on divorce and consumer protection cases for the Volunteer Lawyers Network of Minneapolis. In addition, she works on lobbying efforts on behalf of the Civil Society of Minneapolis, which assists human trafficking victims.
David D. Stein has been an attorney for 20 years and the founder of Liaise® Divorce Solutions. He is a trained best divorce mediator, dispute resolution specialist and lecturer on non-violent conflict management techniques and tools.