Guidelines for Divorcing Parents

by John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally R. Connolly, LMFT

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1. Children need assurance that both parents love them and that they will not be abandoned or deserted by either parent.

2. Small children, in particular, may feel that some action or secret wish of theirs has caused the trouble. Allay those fears with your loving words.

3. Children need to feel love and respect from both parents. Refrain from criticizing the other parent. Cooperate, if only for the sake of the children.

4. Children want to be loyal to both parents. Choosing between parents is frightening and difficult. Find ways to let your child know that you want and support his/her relationship with the other parent.

5. Resist the urge to pump your child with questions about the other parent.
 
6.  Children need
predictable routines.  Try to keep to those as much as possible.

7. Develop some special and different routines or rituals for the new family unit.

8. Children need to mourn the loss of the family unit that is no longer together. Do not hide your tears from them all of the time. They need to realize that it is natural to be very sad and to grieve the loss of the family and the hopes and dreams for the future together.
 
9. Children, even of adult age, need to express and deal with a variety of emotional reactions: sadness, denial, anger, guilt and disappointment, which were brought about by the divorce process. As difficult as it may be for you, you must allow them those feelings and not try to talk them away. Listen and respect your child when her or she shares those feelings, even if they are done in an angry … or silent … way. Find some way to let them know you hear them and accept them with all of their feelings.

10. Some children and parents avoid talking as a means of avoiding more grief. Don’t let that happen to you and your children. Check in with them on a regular basis about how they are doing with all of the changes. Ask them about the saddest or toughest parts for them.

11. It is not unusual for children to continue to wish and hope that their parents will get back together, even after both parents have remarried. Expect that. Empathize with this normal wish and explain that you are sorry and that will not happen.

12. Children need on-going, accurate and age-appropriate information about the divorce. They do not need to know the details of the divorce or any reasons that will put down the other parent, especially if they are very young. It is best to use statements such as “We struggled for a long time and know that we just cannot get along. While this may be best for us as parents, we know that it is extremely difficult for you children.” Remember that your attitude about the divorce and your spouse/former spouse is even more important than the words that you use.

13. Inform people who are involved with your children (day care, teachers, etc.) about the divorce.

14.. A child’s well-being is strongly linked to the parent’s well-being. Take care of yourself.

15. Whenever possible, do not make any major changes in your child’s life for the first year. Try to remain in the same home, with the same schools and the same neighbors and friends.

16. Be very careful about introducing new romantic partners into your child’s life. The longer that you wait, the easier it will be for the children to accept someone new. By all means, especially in the first year, and with young children, do not introduce others that you date unless you know that person well and are fairly certain that it has the potential to be a serious, long-term relationship. Children can form bonds and it is not healthy to continue to experience losses.