Divorce and Children: Protecting the Innocent
Divorce can become a very self-centered time for parents. I do not mean this in a judgmental way. There, but for the grace of God, go I. During my divorce, which took place over 25 years ago, I became so anxious for my own future, I didn’t take the time to empathize with my children’s experience and I believe they suffered as a result.
This is so sad because secure attachment for children is key to their healthy development and something like divorce can interrupt this attachment and in so doing, create anxiety, depression, under-achievement, behavioral and health problems for kids.
Research demonstrates that children who see their parents work to get along, during and post-divorce, fare just as well developmentally as children whose parents remain married. How sad that some divorcing parents, consciously or unconsciously, emotionally abuse their children by treating them as objects rather than human beings. They power-struggle with a tug-of-children that leaves the child internally conflicted with loyalties and betrayals; all this pain for a situation the kids did not ask for and had no control over.
We see this type of behavior when parents repetitively talk about time with their kids as “my time”. Sometimes they will power-struggle with each other about “my time with my child” and demand that any missed time must be made up because it belonged to one parent. As you can see, this is all about the parent and has no compassion for the experience of the child. Wouldn’t it be more child-centered to refer to that time as “our child’s time with me”?
Think and inquire about what your child needs from you as an innocent participant in the face of divorce. Instead of demanding, “Today Johnny is mine!”; you might request, “I think Johnny is really needing and wanting to spend some time with me. I also believe this is very important to his well-being and his growth.” Notice how this approach puts the child in the forefront, not you. When a child observes this type of behavior from a parent, the child does not experience being in the middle.
Also, no matter how contentious your divorce, it is imperative for the child (except, of course, for extreme reasons of physical and emotional threat) that the child be supported to maintain an ongoing relationship with each of his/her parents. When the child observes you being supportive of his/her relationship with the other parent, the child is liberated to continue in secure attachment and therefore, enjoy all the developmental gifts inherent in that process.
If you are divorcing and can not see the “parenting forest for the trees”, get some support from a Collaborative Child Specialist. The Collaborative Child Specialist is a licensed clinical mental health professional with specialized training and experience in working with children. Unlike a court evaluator or a parenting coordinator, the Child Specialist does not assess, evaluate or make recommendations. The Child Specialist is neutral to both parents and an advocate for the children. One of the major advantages of the Collaborative Process is to build upon the strengths and cooperation of the parents so they can become more aware of the challenges their child faces in divorce; prioritize those challenges, and then share their commonly held value of their child’s well-being to work together to meet the needs of their child.
Parents are more receptive to hearing information about their children because they know that the Specialist is not in a position of “choosing” which of them is the best parent, but is only there to be a voice for their children. Parents then have the responsibility of taking that valuable information about their child to heart so that they can make the necessary co-parenting adjustments that puts the child in the forefront.
A Collaborative Child Specialist is a precious gift to both children and parents of divorce. Seek a Collaborative Divorce and receive this professional feedback for the good of your children. You can find all the information you need on the websites of the Collaborative Divorce Institute: http://www.collabortivedivorceinstitiute.com and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals: http://www.collaborativepractice.com/.