We have frequently heard of couples in unhappy marriages staying together “for the children.” Some people may think that divorce will always have drastic and damaging effects on children, but a psychology professor has recently written on how the children of divorced parents can actually flourish after a divorce. It is very easy for divorcing parents to give in to feelings of betrayal or spite or anger, but studies have shown that the more conflict children see between their parents the worse it could be for children later. On the other hand, if couples work together, they may be able to prevent those negative consequences.
A marriage and family therapist likens post-divorce co-parenting to a business. If former spouses follow some of the same rules of cordial behavior as they would with a co-worker, it is less likely that communication will devolve into a shouting match. It is important not to insult a former spouse, both to his or her face or to others. Divorcing couples should also try to establish appropriate times to call and avoid calling outside of those hours. The general rule of thumb is that if it’s inappropriate to do to a colleague, it is inappropriate to do to the child’s other parent.
The therapist also recommends that parents create some type of plan. This plan should include the more obvious things, such as custodial time, visitation or holiday schedules, but it should also incorporate how the parents expect to make decisions. Children do best when they have stability and this includes having similar rules between households. Former spouses may want to determine how they plan on making joint decisions and how to support the each other’s rules.
It is also important to avoid using the children as messengers; parents should communicate directly with each other. Even though a message may seem neutral or positive, if a spouse takes the message the wrong way, the child may feel responsible for the parent’s negative reaction. One way to avoid this is for parents to send a notebook with any messages back and forth with younger children.
Divorce can be hard, both on a child and on the individuals who are actually separating. With some work, however, parents can try to minimize any negative effect a divorce will have on the child.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, “The Child-Focused Divorce,” Elizabeth Bernstein, Sept. 6, 2011