This post is from MaryAnn Kildebeck, a professional counselor providing therapy for families and individuals, who has been involved in Collaborative Law since January 2006. She is a member of the New Paradigm Training team, providing training for collaborative professionals, a past President of the Denton County Collaborative Professionals, former Vice President of Public Education for the Global Collaborative Law Council, and a presenter for professional collaborative law conferences. She has offices in Frisco, Plano and Lewisville.
There he sat in my office, tears streaming down his face. “I can deal with the pain of the divorce when it comes to my own feelings, but it truly breaks my heart to see my children upset and not doing well because of this decision my ex-wife and I have made.” Unfortunately, this is not an unusual complaint while clients are in my office for therapy.
I have been working in my family and individual therapy practice, helping people discover options to improve their marriages, for more than 15 years. Over four years ago, I also began working on collaborative law teams, helping people who have made the choice to divorce go through that process in the most peaceful, dignified and private manner possible. The two parents can create a parenting plan far better than any judge would be able to – not because the judge doesn’t care or want to do what is best for the children, but because nobody knows the children better than the parents. Additionally, the collaborative law option makes it possible to consider the parents’ needs for scheduling while creating the parenting schedule for the children.
Children are very fortunate when they have parents who will put the kids’ psychological needs ahead of the parents’ emotional needs. So, if you are a parent searching for ways to minimize your child’s stress and distress over your divorce – then congratulations on putting your child’s needs at the top of the list of priorities!
Suggestions from my professional and personal experience:
1. The parents should address the divorce with the children together. Have a plan about how you will discuss this with the children before starting the conversation. Help them understand that the divorce is a decision between the two parents, and is not the child’s fault. Children are typically very egocentric, and believe that many things in life happen because of their own influence. This affirmation should be repeated to them often through the course of the divorce and after the divorce. Just because you say it once doesn’t mean that they believed it or retained that concept.
2. Don’t burden the children with adult information. They are children and need to be thinking about kid things – not your financial stress nor emotional bankruptcy caused by the divorce. Do not create a situation in which your child becomes your best friend and confidant. “I’m only telling my children the truth – they deserve to know the truth!” is one statement I hear often. Unfortunately, the “truth” is often unflattering to the other parent, and is a thinly veiled method used to belittle the other parent.
3. Don’t burden the child with the responsibility for your happiness. Even small things can make a big difference. For instance, if your daughter is leaving to go to her mom’s home for parenting time with her, how will it impact your daughter to tell her that you will miss her while she is gone? Perhaps it will create a burden for her to worry about your emotional state! While you were trying to comfort her by saying you will miss her, you might in actuality have been trying to comfort yourself. Instead, consider saying, “I will think of you often while you are gone, and I am planning to make myself happy while you are gone, and I want you to concentrate on being happy while you are with Mom.”
4. NEVER say anything bad about the other parent. Don’t allow your friends or family members to say anything bad about the child’s other parent. DON’T say, “Your Daddy wanted this divorce. I don’t!” OR, “I can’t buy you that because I give all your money to your mother.” You might consider instead saying, “Your Daddy and I don’t agree on many things; however, one thing we both agree on is that we want you to be happy. We will be doing everything we can to help you create your happiness in both homes.”
5. Look for signs of depression or anxiety in the child. Not every child becomes clinically depressed or anxious during or after their parents’ divorce. Children typically adjust to divorce in a similar manner to how their parents adjust. However, if you see signs such as temper outbursts that are unusual for your child, distinct changes in school performance, or withdrawal from friends and/or family, then talk with your child about your concern. Help your child identify what emotions might be triggering the different behavior. If you have a hard time getting the child to talk, then consider child-based therapy provided by a professional trained to speak with children.
Overall, many children can successfully navigate the choppy waters involved in redesigning a family unit. If you have taken the time to read this blog, you most likely are working hard to help your child with the marked changes a divorce presents for all involved. If you have already divorced, then watching the child closely for depression or anxiety will help you know what to do to help your child. If you have not already divorced, please consider strongly the possibility of divorcing with collaborative law professionals. We have all been trained to help you keep the children’s interests at the forefront.