Guest Post by Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell, Co-Founders of Parenting Power
At Parenting Power, we believe that there is more than one â€˜right way to parent. This holds true when considering families who are working through the divorce process. With so many variables at play in any family separation, it is impossible to prescribe one perfect way to make it work.
Whats Really Important?
Theres a great deal of research that proves that children need both of their parents styles of parenting in every stage of development.
â€œThe most important issue is that the children need to be connected with both parents.â€ (C. Ahrons, Pathways to Good Divorce: The Childrens Perspective)
â€œAssure your child that it is all right to love each parent. Dont put your child in a position of divided loyalties or having to choose sides.â€ (E. Bucknam & S. Shuler, Effective Co-Parenting: Putting Kids First)
â€œKids need our parents to be friends enough so that they let each other love us the way we need loving.â€ (Marsha Klein-Pruett quoting a child of divorce in Only God Decides: Young Childrens Perceptions of Custody and Divorce).
Routines for Children in Divorced Families
The reality of raising children in separate homes is that one cannot control the behaviour of the other co-parent. One can control ones own behaviour and the rules in ones own household. Thats where the focus must be.
Research shows that in the first two years after divorce, children suffer from reduced parental care (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). With all the changes, it is difficult and unrealistic to be on top of everything. One way to make it easier on both parents and children is to maintain consistent routines where possible. Routines provide everyone with a sense of control and predictability â€“ I may not know how everything is going to work, but I can count on the fact that Im still catching the bus at 8 am and I know that Ill see my buddies at soccer practice on Mondays and Thursdays.
One other way to give our children a feeling of predictability and power is to create a calendar for them at each house. It needs to be at the childs eye-level so that the child can see the schedule clearly (rather than on a bulletin board/fridge way up high, or in mom or dads phone). Work with the child to mark on the calendar when the child is at each house, along with other important, regular activities (lessons, chores, birthday parties).
It’s impossible to predict the feelings that your child will have at any point during and after the divorce. One thing you can plan to do is to acknowledge any feelings that come, even if those include a wish for reconciliation.
It looks like you are feeling ____________________. Its normal to feel that way.
If you need to feel ___________about this, thats fine. Feelings change over time. I know that you can handle your feelings.
I understand that you wish things werent changing. Change is tricky. I know we can get through this.
Roles and Responsibilities When Co-Parenting
With so many changes happening, allow your child to maintain established responsibilities (chores) without requiring the child to take on new adult responsibilities (Man of the house, Mom of the house). Let kids be kids and let adults behave like adults.
Give clear, truthful explanations about the divorce that are age-appropriate. Children do not need to know the intricate details of the legal situation. With younger children, this typically revolves around how they will be affected by the changes: Youll be staying at Moms house one week and then moving to Dads house the next. You will still go to music lessons and art class. There will still be groceries in the fridge, dinner together at night and youll have a bed to sleep in at both houses, along with your clothes and shampoo and the things you need.
Allow children to know that they are not to blame â€“ this is a situation between mom and dad. The love between a mom and dad is different than the love between a parent and a child. That love does not change.
As you move to unravel the marital relationship, you can learn to build a co-parent relationship. This includes minimizing conflict with the co-parent and finding ways to manage problems as they arise. It also includes finding healthy ways to dispel the anger and emotions that will undoubtedly come up during this process. You may require some help to determine a new form of relationship with each other, working together to solve the problems of raising children even though you may well disagree about some of the components of the situation.
Self-care for Single Parents
Build a community of support for yourself as a single parent. Its valuable to have some people who can be there to help you when you need to be in two places at once, or when you need to talk about your parenting plans or vent when things go wrong. Your child shouldnt be your means of support. Asking for help validates your value and models this process for your child.
Need help? We create Parenting Power â€“ parents who believe they have the real-life parenting tools they need to raise the healthy, responsible, interdependent people the worlds needs. www.parentingpower.ca