Life According To Lenson
LOS ANGELES—Divorce is a far reaching, life-changing event for children. Despite the fact that approximately 50% of first marriages and 67% of second marriages end in divorce, it is a traumatic, rather than routine, experience for children. Their view of a normal and predictable life is shattered, their family stability is fractured, and they are at risk of losing the carefree days of childhood.
Divorce results in altered relationships between children and their parents. Parents may not have the emotional energy or time to address the needs of their children as they are preoccupied with their own emotional pain. Former stay-at-home mothers may be seeking employment, and when they come home after work they are stressed and tired in the evening. Fathers often need to relocate and are distracted by the process of settling into a new home. Sometimes they avoid contact with their children because they are embarrassed to have their children see the smaller home and reduced standard of living which they must endure.
To successfully survive a divorce, children need mature guidance from their parents. Without it, they will harbor fears of abandonment and rejection. With it, they can learn about healthy ways to manage stress, grieving, and treating others with respect.
1. Allow the children to remain in the house and have the parents move in and out each week until the children are 18 years old. This may be perceived as a radical idea, but such cooperation between parents would enable the children to avoid weekly upheaval of moving between two households.
2. Keep your children's routine as unchanged as possible. Keep them attending the same school, clubs, and scout troop.
3. Don't fight with your ex-spouse in front of your children. If your ex-spouse refuses to stop fighting, don't get pulled into it. Keep your focus on your child's mental health.
4. Keep healthy boundaries between adults and children. Do not use your child as a confidant. Do not share aspects of your ex-spouse that caused the marriage to fail. Remember: your children are 50% your ex-spouse. If you tell your children that their other parent is bad, they will internalize it as you saying they are bad as well.
5. Do not allow children to try to fill the role of the absent parent or expect a child to become a surrogate spouse. Examples include a daughter cooking meals for her father, or a son trying to become "the little man of the house." Kids need to be kids.
6. Talk directly to your ex-spouse. Do not triangle in your children to these conversations by making the children messengers. Do not withhold visits to your children from your ex-spouse's family. Remember that you got the divorce, not your children. They will do well to be surrounded by the same social network.
7. Talk directly to your children. They need to hear from you on the phone and see you in person. They need to spend time with and engage in activities with you. No stepparent can replace you. Reassure your children that you left your spouse, not them. And then act like you mean it. Spending unstructured time with your children will give them the opportunity to ask questions that are worrying them. Give them permission to ask you anything.
8. Use this traumatic family experience as an opportunity to help your children learn how to cope with loss. Help them learn how to express their feelings of grief and anger by letting them know you are there for them. By doing so, your children can grow up with a love and respect for both parents, and enter adulthood with a healthy sense of themselves and will become happy and well adjusted adults.
Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW is a Board Certified Coach in private practice. For inquiries about telephone or office sessions, email her at Eileen@LensonLifeCoaching.com or visit her website at www.LensonLifeCoaching.com.
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