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But What About the Kids?

So often I am asked "what can we do to help our kids through the divorce?" While this is a wide-open question who's answers range from very simple to quite complex, there are some general and major points to be made.

Perhaps the most important issue is parenting; in particular, children should have continued regular contact with both parents whenever possible. All too often, divorce can lead to one parent's involvement diminishing dramatically, or that parent disappearing altogether. This can have a devastating effect on a child, who will likely feel abandoned, unloved, rejected, and may also feel it is somehow their own fault, too. (Of course there are extreme cases in which one of the parents is so abusive, or so incapacitated by drug or alcohol problems that they should not be involved until these problems are remedied. However, in my experience, this is very much the exception and not the rule).

Secondly, it is very important that the children not be subjected to an ongoing acrimonious situation in which the parents belittle, demean, humiliate and verbally abuse one another; and of course, physical abuse and fighting should be avoided at all costs. As it is said, "out of control grownups frighten children!" Again, I do not mean to suggest that you never have an argument, but rather it is the extremes that should be avoided. If you have a disagreement that will likely lead to arguing, try to "shelf it" until the two of you can talk alone, privately.

Thirdly, it is essential that the children not be used as pawns or messengers of parents‚ disagreements or feeling of resentment, and that includes such messages as "tell your father he's late again with the child support check", or "you tell your mother I'm not made out of money!" This puts kids in a terrible bind; they will likely get caught in a loyalty conflict, feel uneasy, guilty and very unhappy. It also sets them up to become a target of the other spouses' anger that was meant for you, e.g." Oh yeah! Well you tell her that she's got some nerve and...." Obviously, that leaves the child holding the bag and is most unfair to them.

It's also important for children not to be treated in a fashion that goes against the grain of the other parent; e.g. if one parent holds firm convictions that the children should only eat natural or healthy foods, and the other parent offers them "Doritos" and "Lucky Charms" primarily to spite their ex. You don't have to agree with everything your ex thinks or feels about child rearing, but differences should be discussed and worked out privately, and not acted out vindictively through the kids. Compromises can be made more easily than people imagine, if they can discuss it in a civil and mutually respectful manner.

Whenever possible, both parents should strive to maintain ongoing contact in their children's lives. They need to develop ongoing cooperation, and strive to maintain a civil and respectful demeanor with one another, even though they may no longer like each other very much. I strongly urge people to consider mediation over litigation. Divorce mediation can help lay the groundwork for parents to mutually design plans or "blueprints" for successfully co-parenting together post divorce. Mediation isn't necessarily the right choice for every divorcing couple, but it's an option well worth looking into. It can spare you and your children a lot of pain and aggravation, and may also save you a lot of time and money.


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