Divorcing with children involves the whole family. One day, everyone knows where everyone is and where things go and what the rules are, the next day everything has changed. Parents do everything they can to ‘keep the kids out of it’, to let them know it isn’t their ‘fault’ and that these decisions are parent decisions. Collaborative Divorce supports parents and helps them see the child’s concerns and address them in unique ways.
Fear Of The Dark
Children fear the dark and monsters. As a therapist specializing in children, my work includes addressing these very common fears. Often, children report scary monsters in their rooms and most parents respond with: “Don’t worry! There’s no monster in here.” Treatment with families begins with helping the parents experience the child’s room like the child does. I have the parents enter their child’s room on their knees and look around-lights on and lights off. Parents come back and report that they too could see how a pile of clothes or a certain bookshelf became scary when the lights went off. They address the fear better when they understand it and stop denying it exists. Divorce, moving to a two home family, looks different to children and adults. Learning to see the world from a child’s perspective can help the parents to understand their children better and address their concerns more fully.
Getting Into Your Child’s World
So how does a parent begin to understand how a child sees the changes in their life? First, spend unstructured, non-screen time with your child. Take 10-30 minutes a week to simply sit with them and be dumb. You don’t have the answers to anything, you don’t have a plan, and you are simply watching and interacting with them. Call it a date! If they like to play with dolls, do that and let them lead. If they like to play Uno or other game, play that. Just focus on them and see what happens. Second, eat meals with your child. Studies show that eating meals with your family teaches social emotional skills, protects against drug use and early pregnancy, and increases grades and earning potential. It also allows you to connect with them. Third, check in with them. Ask them how they are doing and ask them specific questions about their feelings about their two home world. Have them tell you how it feels at drop offs and pickups. Have them tell you what it felt like to share the changes in the family with their friends.
Protect Them From Monsters
Learning how your child feels about their new life and all the changes is a far cry from involving them in the decisions you and your coparent make. Some of the monsters of coparenting include:
- Asking where they want to live instead of asking their favorite and least favorite things about each home
- Using litigation terms for family concepts instead of terms like ‘time with Mom and Dad’ and ‘CoParent’ and ‘home with Mom and home with Dad’
- Saying “I miss you” instead of saying “I can’t wait to see you Friday!”
- Telling the child “the whole truth” instead of cocreating a story about the changes in the family that takes into consideration the child’s age and needs
Let Collaborative Divorce Be Your Child’s Nightlight
When parents choose collaborative divorce, they choose professionals who think about children and have empathy for their experiences. These professionals help parents keep conflict in it’s appropriate spot and at a healthy intensity. Their training and focus assists in creating predictability for the children. If a need arises, a child specialist can meet with the child or children and see the world through their eyes-shining a light into their changing world. Our training helps us enter and understand a child’s experience. Then the adults can make decisions that account for the particular needs of their child. The entire process honors the family transition to two homes without destroying the needed coparenting relationship. Parents with the support of these professionals create unique and specialized plans that continue that feeling of family the children really need. Collaborative Divorce helps parents keep the darkness of uncertainty and conflict away from their children.