Often clients complain to me that co-parenting with a soon to be ex-spouse is challenging, and bring up many issues that the two parents do not agree on. I tell my clients that it is very important that the two parents learn to get along better for the sake of their children and their own future. I often suggest that the two parents go to "pre-divorce counseling," to learn how to co-parent in a more amicable and effective way. This is not marriage counseling. Rather, this is counseling to learn new skills such as how to tell your children in a united front that you are going to divorce, and/or learning how to co-parent when living in separate households, including having similar sets of rules and expectations of the children.
One such pre-divorce counselor, is Lani McElgun, a licensed marriage & family therapist and anger management specialist-II, who was kind enough to share her advice on children of divorce with our readers.
Children of Divorce
During a divorce and its aftermath, parenting children with an ex-spouse may be challenging, but here are five helpful tips to ensure a smoother transition.
Through our experience as marriage and family therapists over the years, we have seen children adjust quite well in separate households, however, there is one exception. Oftentimes, the children who do not fare well in a divorce situation are the ones in which the parents continue their cold war with unpleasant and angry power struggles over the children. Here, children most often are seen acting out in negative behaviors, their grades may begin to decline and they appear angry, sad and depressed. There are a few basic rules which parents can learn to abide by to decrease the effect of separation:
- Don't use the children as messengers between parents (whether for verbal messages or for paying support) Find a way to negotiate and discuss issues between the two of you. If the child complains to you about the other, encourage them to work it out with the parent directly
- Don't badmouth the other parent to the children. This is hurtful and not productive. If you need to vent, find a supportive friend, relative, or therapist. Remember the relationship failed, not one parent alone.
- Keep your promises to your children; when you are scheduled to pick them up or take them out, keep to those schedules the best you can. Maintain a regular schedule.
- Follow the guidelines of your agreement; sharing important information about your child is beneficial to their well-being (health, education, friendships, behavior).
- Take time to heal emotionally; your attitude and your well-being will be absorbed by your children, so get help as needed.
Your children need both their parents and their adjustment will depend largely on your own behavior moving forward. Take responsibility and do the right thing…for them and ultimately, for yourself.
A recommended book is Healthy Divorce by Craig Everett & Sandra Volgy Everett.
D. Lani McElgun, Licensed marriage & family therapist & Anger management specialist-II
Garden City Marriage & Family Therapy
520 Franklin Avenue, Suite 213, Garden City, NY 11530