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Divorce Doesn’t Have to Destroy Your Kids – 50 Guidelines For Divorcing and Divorced Parents
Follow these guidelines to make the divorce transition and the process of family restructuring and rebuilding easier for you and your children.
1. If you haven’t already done so, call it quits with your Ex. (Note: Your Ex does not have to take the same action.) Divorced parents can succeed at parenting. That success may not begin with harmony but, at the very least, a ceasefire is necessary.
2. You are set with each other forever. One day, you will be a grandmother and grandfather to the same babies. And when these babies grow up, they will repeat the stories they heard about grandma and grandpa. This will be your legacy. How do you want to be pictured?
3. Divorce creates a breakdown of trust and communication. Accept this and work to rebuild trust and communication with the other parent, even if it feels like you’re doing all the work. And, be patient, emotional wounds take time to heal.
4. Establish a business relationship with your former spouse. The business is the co-parenting of your children. Business relationships are based on mutual gain. Emotional attachments and expectations don’t work in business. Instead, in successful business communication is upfront and direct, appointments are scheduled, meetings are held, agendas are provided, discussions are focused on the issue, everyone is polite, formal courtesies are observed, and agreements are explicit, clear, and written. You don’t need to like the people you do business with, but you do need to put aside negative feelings to do business. Communicating in a business-like manner with your ex-spouse may feel strange and awkward at first, so if you catch yourself behaving in a non-business-like manner, stop the conversation and continue the discussion another time.
5. There are at least two versions to every story. Your child may try to bend the facts so that you give you what she thinks you want to hear. So give the other parent the benefit of the doubt when your child reports extraordinary discipline and/or rewards.
6. Do not suggest possible plans or make arrangements directly with pre-teens. And always confirm any arrangements you’ve discussed with an older child with the other parent ASAP.
7. The transition between mom’s house and dad’s house is often difficult. Be sure to have your kids clean, fed, ready to go, and in possession of all their paraphernalia when it’s time to make the switch. Better if possible avoid the dreaded switch by structuring your timeshare so that weekends start on Friday after school and end with school leaving on Monday morning.
8. Do not screen calls from the other parent or limit phone contact between your child and the other parent. Instead, make sure your child is available to talk to the other parent when s/he calls.
9. Don’t discuss the divorce, finances or other adult topics with your children. Likewise, avoid saying anything negative about the other parent and his/her family and friends to your children.
10. Children always listen – especially when you think they aren’t listening. So, avoid discussions about the divorce, finances, the other parent and other adult topics when your children are within reach.
11. Avoid using body language, facial expressions, or other subtleties to express negative thoughts and emotions about the other parent. Your child can read you!
12. You can discuss your feelings with your children as much as they can understand them. But, if you let your child know that you are afraid of the future, your child will also be terrified. Instead, maintain a balanced emotional perspective that focuses on the difference between feelings and facts.
13. Do not use your child as a courier for messages or money.
14. Support your child’s right to visit their grandparents and extended family. Children benefit from knowing their roots and heritage. And children love tradition. A large family provides children with a sense of consistency, connection and identity – especially during divorce. Remember that neither extended family is better or worse – they are just different.
15. Avoid the urge to question your child or press him for information about the details of your co-parents personal or professional life.
16. Each parent must establish and maintain his own relationship with the children. Neither of you should act as an intermediary between the children and the other parent. And, neither of you should act as the defense attorney, presenting a child’s case to the other parent.
17. Be on time for pick up and drop off. Do not enter the other parent’s home unless you are invited.
18. Your child’s relationship with his parents will affect his relationships for the rest of his life. Never put your child in a position where he has to choose between his parents or decide where his family loyalties lie. Instead, allow him to love both parents without fear of angering or hurting the other.
19. Don’t take it personally if your teen prefers to be with his friends. Don’t push, but stay available. If you feel rejected and rejected, your teenager may feel rejected.
20. Expect that your children may feel confused, guilty, sad and/or abandoned in response to the divorce. Acknowledge their feelings as normal and remind them that even though the family is going through a major change, you and their Dad/Mom will always be their parents.
21. Even if the other parent disappoints your child or fails to honor a time commitment, you will tell the child that despite this mistake the other parent loves the child very much.
22. If your children want to talk, shut up and listen.
23. Keep your children informed about the day-to-day details of their lives and your separation/divorce in a way they can understand.
24. Maintain as many security anchors as possible (continuation of relationships, rituals and the environment).
25. Don’t indulge your children too much out of guilt or in an attempt to “buy” them. Kids want to stay up late but they need rest. Kids want sweets but they need vegetables. Children express financial wants but they have emotional needs. Give your children a small amount of what they want and a lot of what they need.
26. Remember that no one is completely bad or completely good. Be honest (with yourself) about your ex’s and your own strengths and weaknesses.
27. Be consistent in how you discipline your children. Set boundaries, giving them freedom within a limited area, and enforced rules outside the “courtyard.”
28. Avoid giving mixed messages or false hopes for a reunion.
29. Remember that schedules will need to change from time to time to accommodate circumstances and your child’s development. If you need to change the schedule, inform your co-parent as soon as possible. When your parent needs to change the schedule, show relaxed flexibility and go with the flow.
30. Share good memories, but don’t live in the past.
31. Consider separating your children occasionally to give each parent some individual time with each child.
32. Introduce your child to neighborhood kids she can play with at her second home.
33. Consider holding monthly family meetings, with a rotating chair, to discuss tasks, problems, schedules, plans and challenges.
34. Coordinate with your parent so that school events, functions and activities are covered. Who will buy the school pictures? Who will handle tours? Who will work the fundraiser? Who will work on the science project? Who will buy the school supplies? Who will handle the teacher’s gift?
35. Do not forget old family traditions and rituals – practice them and create new ones.
36. Be willing to separate your needs from the needs of your children and make their needs the priority.
37. Keep parenting matters separate from money matters.
38. If possible, tell your children about the pending separation together before one parent leaves. Plan for a transition time if you can.
39. Remember to tell your children:
(a) Your father/mother and I chose to divorce because we thought it would be best for everyone.
(b) Both your father/mother and I love you and will always love you. The love a parent has for a child never ends.
(c) Your mother/father and I work together to make sure we look after you.
(d) Your mother/father and I each have a special relationship with you. You can love us both and never feel like it means choosing between us, just like each of us loves you and your brother/sister.
40. Make sure boyfriends/girlfriends and potential step-parents slow down, stay out of the divorce, don’t interfere with a child’s relationship with either of his natural parents, and don’t encourage the child to call them Mom or Dad.
41. Children, of any age, may be reluctant to spend time with a parent for various reasons. Both parents should encourage the child to go with the other parent.
42. If you are not attached, it will confuse your child and confirm to him that he can manipulate you.
43. Make sure the parents of your child’s friends know your parent and know they can trust him/her with their child.
44. If you are a long-distance parent:
(a) Remember that your child is a digital native. On the other hand, depending on your age, you may be a digital immigrant. Use your child’s advanced knowledge of technology to keep you connected.
(b) Watch TV together. Let your child know that you will be watching her favorite show and be ready to talk about it.
(c) Give your child pre-addressed, stamped manila envelopes to send you schoolwork and other documents.
(d) Make audio and video recordings for each other. Nothing to say? Record yourself reading a book and mail the book and the recording to your child.
(e) Remember small events. Send cards, pictures and letters for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, etc.
(f) Set up webcams on your computer and on your children’s computers. Use video mail and YouTube to connect.
(g) Use My-space, Facebook, and Twitter to stay in touch if you can do so privately and safely.
(h) Make sure your children have cell phones with your number programmed. Use text messages and photos to stay in touch throughout the day.
(i) Keep up with schoolwork. Send teachers pre-addressed, stamped manila envelopes to make it easy to send you updates. If you don’t hear anything, be sure to start communication with teachers by phone and email.
45. Make friends with other divorced families who have been successful in the transition and use them as mentors.
46. Divorce is not an event, it is a process. Allow yourself, your ex-spouse and your children at least two years to readjust.
47. Divorce in itself will not destroy your children. It is your reaction to the divorce that has the power to destroy their coping mechanisms. Ongoing conflict and emotionally unavailable parents who have regressed to boy/girl crazy teenagers are the real culprits.
48. Don’t use your children to fill your need for companionship. If you don’t have one, GET A LIFE!! This is important for your (and your child’s) recovery after divorce. Seek support from friends, family, support groups, a divorce coach. Consider entering therapy with a licensed mental health professional. Consider joining Parents-Without-Partners, Codependents Anonymous or a Church group for divorced/widowed persons.
49. Dissolving a marriage does not mean the dissolution of the family or of your parental duties. In fact, as a family undergoes the restructuring process, the children need strong and caring parents more than ever. If you and/or your ex are too emotionally drained to be those parents, find temporary substitutes who can give your children what they need.
50. Every child needs at least one loving, stable parent. It is YOUR responsibility to be that parent. And, if your child is lucky enough to have an additional parent – a loving stepfather, rejoice – because no child can have too many people who love him.
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