Part Three: Ways To Help Children Cope With Life After a Divorce or Parent Separation
Having one’s parents separate whether from within a marriage or a living together arrangement can be, and often is, devastating for children of any age. It is particularly difficult for minor children or those with special needs who depend on parental support and care. In most states, there are guidelines and requirements for post judgment parenting. In Florida, for example, all couples must attend a state approved parenting class before a divorce or child support order can be adjudicated. Furthermore, in Florida, the motto “In the best interest of the child” is applied to decisions made regarding minor children as well as the concept of equal sharing, co-parenting, known as parental timesharing.
However, while the courts do their best to help couples become responsible, loving, and nurturing parents, the bottom line is parents themselves must take the initiative in helping children cope and thrive, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Here are some ways post judgment parents can do this:
- Probably the most important way to help children of any age is to consistently remind them both in words and deeds that they are loved, that they are not the reason their parents are no longer able to live together, and that both parents take an active interest in the day to day happenings of each child.
- Continue to be present for a child’s special events whether it is a birthday, sports event, graduation or wedding. Parents should put aside their personal feelings about each other to be able to be present for their children. Children shouldn’t have to choose which parent to share their special times with. Even if it isn’t “your day” work to allow both parents to attend.
- Help children understand the schedule for time spent with each parent and try to keep the schedule as consistent as possible. Too many changes are upsetting.
- Help children plan for their overnights by making sure they have what they will need at whichever home they will be staying in. Having duplicates of items such as tooth and hair brushes, night clothes, special pillows, and bikes will make children feel at home with each parent. Children, especially very young ones, will often have a special blanket, stuffed animal, or other treasured items which needs to go with wherever they are. If it is not possible to find an acceptable duplicate, be sure the special item goes where they go.
- Try to be enthusiastic or at least not negative about time spent with the opposite parent. Children are quick to sense opposition and it hurts them to know a parent does not want their child spending time with the other parent.
- Never question a child about their time spent with the other parent. Often children will talk about this time which is fine, just let that talk be initiated by them. Children shouldn’t feel they must keep secrets either so avoid telling a child “don’t tell”.
- Encourage your children to have friends and sometimes let their friends be a part of your time together. Sharing friends with a parent is like saying “I’m proud of my parent and happy we can share the friend together”.
- When bringing another “special person” such as a boyfriend or girlfriend into your child’s life, do so gently and with understanding. In your child’s eyes no one can ever replace the other parent, so work on a special relationship rather than a replacement relationship.
- Be happy for your children when the other parent is able to take them on a special trip or to a special event, even if you are unable to do so, say for financial reasons. Children will sometimes complain when one parent cannot do for them all the other parent can do, but a simple explanation will help as will your loving acceptance of their time with the other parent.
- Treat the other parent with respect, especially in front of your children. And remember what Thumper the rabbit’s mother said in the movie Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”
Parenting after a divorce or the separation of a relationship is never easy, especially for the children, but it can be done effectively if both parents are willing to work at it. The above suggestions, if followed, will surely help all concerned, especially the children, move through the years of child development and on into the years of adulthood. It is hoped our children, no matter the age, will continue to love and respect us as parents, persons deserving of their love and respect in return for our love and respect for them.