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Parenting, Mediation, and Divorce: Meeting the Needs of Our Children

by Shannon Rios Paulsen
May 2014 Shannon Rios Paulsen

Children are a huge source of love in our lives; they can say one sentence, bring a huge smile to our face, and remind us of the innocence of childhood. Children all deserve that time of play, laughter, and fun as they grow up. This article addresses what parents and other loved ones can do for children before, during and after a divorce. You can take this information and pass it along or decide to be mentor or positive role model for the children yourself.

Children are resilient and they will make it through this event. However, I also want you to know that your behavior and the actions you take will have a major impact on your children and their lives. It is very positive that you are reading this article. It says that you are curious and that you want to understand how your divorce may impact or has impacted your children.

I have had the opportunity to know many divorcing parents. From conversations with them and research I have done, I identified some questions you may be asking yourself: “What is my role as a parent as I go through this process?” “Why is thinking about the impact of divorce on my children important?” “What might my children be going through during this time?” and “What should I be doing for my children during this time?” I will attempt to answer these questions.

Why Is Thinking About the Impact of Divorce on My Children Important?

It is very important to put children first during the divorce process. Research suggests that divorce can negatively impact children. We do know for sure that no matter what, divorce creates stress and disruption in children’s lives, which can be minimized if parents take time to understand the impact of divorce on children and what they can do to minimize that impact. In taking time to think about this impact, you are putting your children first.

Parents may not want to think that divorce impacts their children or read articles such as this one that may invoke feelings of guilt. If this topic does bring up some feelings of guilt, take a minute to realize that taking a step to positively impact your child’s future should never entail any amount of guilt. The long-term benefits to your child will outweigh the feelings of guilt you may have ten-fold. I can tell you with great certainty that if you apply some of the advice put forth in this article, you will be going a long way in assisting your children through this process.

Divorce is a decision that will impact your family for the rest of your lives. Take a few minutes to understand how you can play a role in ensuring that your children are well taken care of during this process. That is all that they can ask from you or that you can ask from yourself during this time. You have a lot going on, but taking time to think about your children’s needs is probably more important than you could ever imagine.

Role of Parents During Divorce

At the end of this article is a tool entitled, The Parent’s Promise and no matter what stage of divorce you are in, some or all of these items will apply to you. This document was written by children of divorce for children of divorce. Please ensure that you are adhering to these promises should you move forward towards the divorce decision. Prior to, during, and after your divorce, when interacting with your children always ask yourself, “Is this behavior helping or hurting my child?”

Your role as a parent is to put your children first. No matter whose choice the divorce was or whose fault it was, one thing is for sure -- it was not the choice of the children. We must look out for their best interests during this time.

Communication

Communication is another responsibility of the parent. Depending upon the stage of divorce that you are in, it is very important for you to communicate with your children about this event. In the initial communication to the children, it is optimal if both parents can communicate about the divorce together; however this may not always be possible.

Children are very perceptive and it is best for you to be open and honest with them. It is very important that your children know you are not leaving them and that both of you still love them very much. For further information on communicating with your children about your divorce, please refer to the book, Good Parenting Through Your Divorce by Mary Ellen Hannibal (2002).

Conflict Management

Another role of the parent revolves around conflict. It is very important that you do whatever is necessary to minimize the conflict with your child’s other parent. Studies continuously show that the number one determinant of divorce negatively impacting children is the amount of conflict between the parents before, during, and after the divorce.

Please ask yourself on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) “What is the current level of fighting in our family?” Also ask yourself, “What do I need to do to lower that number?” Not what should someone else do, but what can I do. Please think of one step you can take to lower that number. Please refer to the section at the end of this document, Things to Consider if Your Co-Parent is Not Cooperating for other ideas on lowering the conflict in your family. You may even want to consider seeing a counselor/coach for yourself. The healthier we are physically and emotionally, the better able we are to take care of our children’s physical and emotional needs.

Try to think of your spouse or ex-spouse as a business partner with whom you are working together for the greater good of your business (your children). You want your children to succeed and thrive in the world. They are your future.

Providing Support is Crucial

Another role of the parent is to proactively provide support for your children. Divorce is a disruption to your life and it is also a disruption to your child’s life. You may be strong enough to reason and rationalize yourself through this event but children, especially at certain ages, need assistance in processing this event.

As a family and children’s counselor/coach, I provide a safe space for children to process and work through this event. My goal is to provide the child with whatever support they may need to allow them to grow and learn, so they may move on from this event and take the skills and knowledge they learned to help them better work through future events in their lives.

Together, we all must support children and provide them with the tools and environment they need to work effectively through this event they did not choose. This approach allows children to develop coping skills they will use their entire lives. In doing this, we will allow our children to develop hope, trust, and self-confidence in others that they will be able to carry with them during their lifetime. Children report that having someone outside of the family to talk with during this time was one of the most beneficial things for them.

Summary

First of all, I would like to thank you for reading this article. My approach is a pro-active one with children and divorce. It is only with your help that more families will take a pro-active stand. Divorce will have an impact on our families for many generations to come and we must work together to minimize the impact on our children, our grandchildren, and their children. 

Third, I would like you to commit to three actions before you move on to the next task that is awaiting you. Think of three actions that you will take in the next week that will allow you to act in your child’s best interest. Write them down. Examples may be:  share this article with my child’s other parent, contact a family/children’s divorce counselor/coach, buy a book on parenting/divorce, commit to an action from the Parent’s Promise (specify the action), etc.

Now, take a minute and envision what you want for your children in the future. Think of the relationships you want them to build, the self-confidence you want them to have, the love you want them to share, and the trust you want them to be able to build. Envision your child living out their dreams. Our children are too special for us not to take the actions we know will assist them to achieve their goals in life.

Divorce is a difficult event for all involved; let’s work together to help minimize its impact on our children. I challenge you to positively impact and interact with children during this month of love. It will be the best kind of love you can give or get this month! Again, I thank you for taking the time to read this article and so do your children.

The Parent’s Promise

Written by Children of Divorce for Children of Divorce

For the greatest good of my child ______I hereby agree that:

  • I will not speak negatively about my child’s other parent to my child.
  • I will not say to my child “that (insert negative behavior or characteristic) is just like your father/mother”.
  • I agree to not put my child in the middle of issues with their other parent (esp. child support).
  • I agree to not use my child as a pawn to get back at their other parent.
  • I agree that if my child’s parent has a new relationship that I will not speak negatively of this other person to my child.
  • I will not expect my child to support my emotional health.
  • I will periodically ask my child how they are doing.
  • I will do my best to fully support my child during this process.
  • I will allow my child to be a child during this time.
  • I will seek outside professional counseling if I need to speak with someone about this situation or if I am having difficulty maintaining this agreement.
  • I agree that if I do not uphold the above promises that I personally am not acting in the best interest of my child’s physical and emotional health.
  • I will speak with my child’s coach/counselor once a month to gain further insight.

By agreeing to the Parent’s Promise I am accepting responsibility as a parent to provide the best environment possible during this transition for my child. In upholding these promises, I am also acknowledging to my child that they have no fault in this decision that was made by their parents. I am fully committed to the best interest of my child’s emotional and physical health during this time and to their future growth and development.

Honestly and with much love, I commit to this for my child. (Signed, __________)

Things to Consider if Your Co-Parent is Not Cooperating

  • Always be aware of your behavior first. Ask yourself “Am I acting in the best interest of my child?” Read the Parent’s Promise.
  • Tell your child you love them through your actions and your words on a consistent basis. Give yourself reminders if you need to.
  • Spend as much quality time as you can with your child.
  • Have formal agreements (like Parenting Plans) with your ex-partner. Fulfill your part of the agreement.
  • Do not speak negatively of your ex-partner to your children. You can, however, be truthful (i.e., I know it is frustrating when Mom/Dad cancels at the last minute).
  • Remember that a parent who is negative and degrading the other parent, does not look favorably in the child’s eyes. Once they can understand, they will judge you by your actions and your words, not by what the other parent says. 
  • Do whatever you need to do to remain calm in the presence of your ex-partner. Not reacting to them takes steam out of their purpose (which may be to frustrate you).
  • Always remember that conflict is the most difficult thing for children to see occurring between the two people that they love the most. However, children need both parents, so do not avoid your child because you wish to avoid your ex-partner.

 

 

Biography


Shannon R Rios Paulsen MS LMFT is a Life Coach and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  She coaches individuals and parents as a life coach through her life coaching business www.inlovewithme.com so that parents can move forward and create healthy lives and relationships with themselves, their children and others.  She is also the founder of www.healthychildrenofdivorce.com.  She has worked with 1000s of families of divorce and conflict over the past 12 years as a child family investigator, parenting coordinator/decision-maker, children’s therapist and divorce and parenting educator for the state of MN and CO.



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Website: inlovewithme.com/

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