Help Your Children Cope with Divorce by Co-Parenting with Less Conflict

One of the biggest worries parents have when considering divorce is how the divorce will affect their children. What do we know about the effects of divorce on children?

Research indicates: *

  • Divorce is a significant loss and disruption for children and parents
  • Children generally experience painful feelings and have to adjust to pragmatic changes in their lives
  • Most children show resilience and are able to cope well and without major difficulties after initial, short-term adjustment issues
  • Children’s risk for social, academic, emotional problems after a divorce are highly related to the strength of relationships they have with their parents and the level of conflict between the parents

Based on the research, perhaps the single best thing a parent can do for their children in the wake of divorce is to develop a good, respectful working relationship with the other parent.

This is a TALL order! How can you reconcile what your children need and will help them adjust with your own possibly hurt and angry feelings? This will likely be a complicated and messy process, but there are steps that you can take to help you and your children.

Here are a few key pieces of information and steps to consider. I will be writing in more detail about them in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned for more specific tips to help you down this difficult, but ultimately worthwhile road!

  • Be clear about your Ultimate Parenting Goals …. Most parents want to raise their children in ways that allow children to: adjust well to the divorce; grow up to be happy,healthy, responsible, well-adjusted adults; and describe their family experience as loving, safe, and supportive. Believe that both you and the other parent likely want these same things for your children.
  • Put your children’s needs first! Have your love for your children and your fierce protection of your Ultimate Parenting Goals be greater and stronger than your short term hurt feelings (“short term” at least in the grand scheme of things!). This parent-love is stronger than your hurt, your anger, your grief, or your guilt!
  • Take the time to manage your strong feelings! Do this on your own–separately from your children and from the other parent. Do this with safe, supportive others. Do this before you talk things over with the other parent, before you hit “send” on an email or text message, and before making any big decisions. Do this over and over and over.
  • Create a new relationship with the other parent. This will be a process over time, but well worth making the effort. The divorce will mark the ending of your marriage, but not the ending of your relationship. When you have children, you will continue to have a relationship; as parents to your children. This relationship will be extremely important, yet unlike other relationships in your life. The other parent is no longer your spouse and does not need to be a friend, but you do need to be able to work well together to raise your children. This new and different relationship requires changes to the boundaries and structures of how you used to relate. Some describe this new relationship like a business partnership–one of shared important goals and respectful interactions.
  • Cooperate and coordinate your parenting efforts. Share information. Be polite. Pick your battles. Give the benefit of the doubt. Build goodwill. Listen. Look for common ground. Get on the same page about the big things. Back each other up.

Consistently making these efforts will go a long way toward your children making a healthy adjustment to the divorce. These efforts are also likely to help your own divorce adjustment and transitioning to an effective co-parenting relationship with your children’s other parent. And consistently making these efforts will hopefully help you feel proud that you did what you could to parent your children well through the divorce. Think of a time in the future when you will be looking back upon this difficult time in the life of your family and your children will know and appreciate that you took the high road and gave them your best.

  • *For more information on children’s divorce adjustment, see The Truth About Children and Divorce by Robert E. Emery, Ph.D. and check out my website at www.gabardi.com for other recommended reading and my book The Quick Guide to Co-Parenting After Divorce: Three Steps to Your Children’s Healthy Adjustment.

This blog entry also found at www.gabardi.com

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