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Parenting Your Children After Divorce

Some moms and dads think once they are divorced and most of the decisions have been made, the worst is behind them. Unfortunately, parenting after divorce is an ongoing challenge. The success of divorced parents depends on the decisions they make, their attitude toward their situation, and their compassion for their “blameless” kids.

Divorced moms and dads are often overwhelmed by all the changes in their lives. They may be filled with guilt, blame, rage, or grief. Though they love their kids, it is often a major challenge to manage emotions and conflict with their ex-spouse in a way that helps their kids move through the changes and feel loved and secure.

Things to consider when parenting children after a divorce:

1. Children need to feel understood. After a divorce, their feelings may be in turmoil. Listen to them. Don't tell them what to think. Be sure to respond specifically to what they are telling you. For example, say, “It sounds like you are feeling upset about meeting your father's new girlfriend, is that right?” As a mother or father, you don't have to have a solution for your kids’ problems – you just need to listen as they describe their problems. You can suggest they write down their feelings and share them with your ex-spouse (but only if they want to).

2. Even though it might be tempting to do so, never criticize your ex-spouse within ear-shot of your children, because it's a direct criticism of them (who are 50% of your ex-spouse).

3. Teenagers like to feel in control, and divorce turns their world upside down. Don't fall into the trap of sharing divorce details or your angry feelings about your ex-spouse with your teens. Their own anxiety and need for control causes them to be understanding of what you're going through, but you need to be the parent. Get outside help for yourself, get therapy if necessary, and maintain those boundaries. Making your older children your cohort is wrong and does damage.

4. Don’t communicate “through” your kids, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation you and your ex-spouse couldn’t handle.  Email is an excellent tool to communicate with your ex-spouse. It allows you to specifically discuss the practicalities of parenting without detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds. If you need to speak with your ex-spouse over the phone or in person, be focused and stay on task – and most important, don't swallow the bait if he or she descends into resentment and anger. Take the high road by simply saying, “I appreciate your feelings, but I am here to discuss our child's school assignment.”

5. Alienating a youngster from the other parent is an all-too-common (and often subconscious) tactic that moms and dads may use after a divorce. Alienating is a form of brainwashing where one parent repeatedly insists, to the youngster, that certain facts and feelings exist between the other parent and the youngster until the youngster begins to agree, whether true or not. When alienated long enough, kids may resist any bond with the other parent, and that parent may sever ties with the youngster out of frustration and hopelessness. This is the worst mistake any divorced parent can commit, and it has a name: Parental Alienation Syndrome.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

6. Although going through a divorce can make a mother or father feel emotionally needy, this should not be shared with your youngster through action or word. A youngster who feels a parent’s neediness too often will begin feeling guilty or fearful of leaving the parent when it is time to spend time with the other parent. This is a huge burden to put on any boy or girl.

7. Don’t turn any of your youngster’s special occasions into an opportunity to focus on marital hostility. Let sporting events, birthdays, holidays, dance recitals, and school performances all be opportunities to focus on your son or daughter and how proud you are of him or her. Don’t, for example, discuss parenting-time issues, child-support issues, etc. If you have difficulty being civil with your ex-spouse, take turns at special events, or limit your attendance, or attend the event at opposite ends of the room so that your child can interact freely with both sides of the family without fear of chaos and drama.

8. It’s never too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty divorce. Kids are remarkably forgiving (at least until they reach their teenage years, when resentment can become more cemented). If you've made some mistakes, simply do the following: (a) explain in detail exactly what you've done wrong, (b) commit to changing your behavior from that moment on, and (c) apologize for your mistakes (saying you're sorry goes a long way).

9. Moms with sons – and dads with daughters – should be particularly careful that they do not put their oldest youngster into the position of “replacement spouse,” “man of the house,” “woman of the house,” or any other misplaced role. Kids need to feel like kids and feel the security of knowing their mother and father can – and will – take care of all parenting obligations.

10. Never put your son or daughter in the position of choosing between households. Most U.S. states have statues that require children to be almost adults before being capable of choosing where they want to live. Some states never allow children this choice. This is because they have a natural, healthy loyalty toward both mom AND dad. Being asked to make any choice between parents (e.g., who has custody, whose house the youngster should spend Christmas at, etc.) puts kids in the awkward position of shifting their loyalty away from one parent in favor of the other. This can leave them feeling regretful, angry and despondent.

11. Asking your son or daughter questions about the other parent (or time spent with the other parent) is a harmful way of putting the youngster in the middle. Moms and dads should always communicate all issues privately between themselves. Any questions or concerns about the other parent’s home or situation should be directed at that parent, not the youngster.

12. Spoiling your kids in order to divert their grief or pain is not a healthy way of dealing with their pain – or yours. If you are the one who has moved away from the original home, you may have an even larger temptation to be an over-indulgent parent since your time together will be so limited now. It feels important to make that time memorable to your youngster – and what boy or girl doesn’t love a new toy? But more than toys, your youngster needs to feel stable and safe. This can be obtained through parenting “as usual,” despite the changes in family life.

13. Treating your youngster like a “pal” and relating to him or her as a peer is a common change that occurs after some divorces. While it may be tempting to sympathize with your youngster since you have both lost something important in your lives, your losses are different. Your youngster is not a mini-adult!

14. Do not share with your son or daughter whether or not the other parent is paying child-support, how much child-support, or when the child-support doesn’t come in – no matter how tempting it may be. Any criticism of your ex-spouse will also feel like a criticism of the youngster and will erode his or her self-esteem.

15. Lastly, if several months go by and your children are still not coping well or adjusting to the new circumstance, please consider family counseling or therapy for all willing parties.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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