Linda Lewis Griffith

5 don’ts for divorcing parents

Half of all marriages end in divorce. That means millions of children are impacted by their parents’ breakup. Divorce is always stressful for kids; but some folks make matters worse with their bad behavior following the split.

Below are five mistakes that divorcing parents commonly make and ways to avoid those pitfalls in your unique situation:

1. Being unavailable to the children

Youngsters need their parents more than ever after a divorce. They crave support and reassurance. They want time with the two people that matter most.

Unfortunately, many parents check out physically and emotionally following a divorce. A dad may move to another state. A woman may be so busy that she never listens to her 10-year-old’s concerns.

Moms and dads can be available to their offspring in several different ways. They can arrange for frequent visits if they don’t have primary custody. They can engage in age-related activities, like going out for ice cream after cheer practice. They can move to a new home in the same neighborhood. They can ask what a youngster is experiencing, then listen nonjudgmentally to the response.

When parents are present and available, they send a strong message to their kids: “I’m no longer with the other parent. But I will always be in your life. The divorce has not changed how much I love you. I am your parent. Period.”

2. Getting involved in another relationship

Whether a new relationship begins before the divorce or starts up a short time later, it diminishes your relationship with your kids.

Boys and girls need attention and time. A new flame is a distraction and introduces new characters into youngsters’ already disrupted lives.

It’s understandable that divorced parents are drawn toward new romance; they’re lonely and needy themselves. Still, moms and dads would be well advised to table their personal longings for a while in order to tend to youngsters’ concerns.

How long should parents wait before they start to date?

There is no magic answer. Make sure you and your children are stable. Don’t introduce them to everyone you date. Make sure your beau is a real keeper before involving the kids. And don’t expect children to like your lover. That bond may take years to develop.

3. Interfering with the relationship with the other parent

Children have a right to love both their parents, regardless of what’s transpired between mom and dad. Divorcing parents should never speak badly about the other spouse in front of the kids. Nor should they seek to limit their time together or interfere with their joint activities.

Even when parents strongly disagree about lifestyles or child-rearing practices, they have no say when kids are with the other parent.

Moms and dads can facilitate the child’s relationship with the other parent by allowing private time on the telephone, helping select gifts for birthdays and holidays and by referring to the absent parent in a pleasant and casual tone.

4. Involving children in adult matters

Divorce is a problem between two grown-ups. The kids should remain above the fray. Children should be allowed to pursue their childhoods without the encumbrances of such adult topics as financial problems, extramarital affairs, depression or jealousy.

Parents frequently involve children in their matters when they ask questions about the other parent, such as “Is Jay still coming over to mommy’s when you’re there?” Kids are caught in an uncomfortable bind and feel forced to either tell a lie or betray a parent’s trust. It’s best to avoid that problem altogether and stick to discussions about the child.

5. Being inappropriate during visits or phone calls

Non-custodial parent-child interactions should center around generally pleasant experiences that focus on the child’s life. Moms and dads can ask pertinent questions about the youngster’s playmates, pets, school and activities. They can engage in appropriate activities that enhance bonding and warm fuzzy feelings.

Parents should never infuse their own dramas or issues into the conversation. A mother who cries when she Skypes her son only makes him feel sad and responsible for her unhappiness. A father who complains, “Your mother keeps taking all my money,” makes his daughter feel confused and anxious.

Visits and phone calls should be frequent, short and positive. The goal is to nurture your relationship and let kids know they’re cherished and adored.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

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