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Children & Divorce

Kids Will Adjust - Give Them a Break

Part 1

copyright 1997 By Harlan Jacobsen

Children of divorce go through almost the same stages of divorce that adults do. Bewilderment -cannot believe this is really happening. Anxiety - what catastrophe is this going to bring on next. Anger - it isn’t fair. Blaming - become depressed, fear, loneliness - almost the same that the parent is going through and, again, not necessarily in the same order as the parent. Yet most people ignore the emotional roller coaster the children are going through, saying the parents got divorced, not the kids.

Yet both suffer a loss and are thrown into major lifestyle changes at the same time.

To smooth things out in the children's roller coaster of emotional ups and downs, parents need to do the following:

1. Be more understanding of emotional flare-ups, just as they need to be more understanding of you and your emotional roller coaster.

2. Assure them the missing parent did not stop being their father (or mother), that the missing parent is having a difficult time adjusting ,too, and may find it hard to see them often and have to split again each time - that rather than have to go through that emotional tearing apart, the missing parent may prefer to nearly cut-off all contact until they have adjusted but that doesn’t mean they stopped loving or caring about the child.

3. Tell them you are setting up a kid-time every day at a certain time, like, say, 5:30 pm. During that time they can bring up anything they like and can talk as long as they want and you will give them 100% of your attention. So save all of their gripes or anything they need to discuss or talk about until that time if they feel you are not really hearing them. It is the quality of your time (attention), not the length of time.

4. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, fears, and effects of the divorce without putting them down for it or "poo-pooing" their concerns.

What you need to do is basically call a truce and end the war with your Ex. When you continue the divorce wars, research shows children are most affected.

Do not run the missing parent down excessively. Do not build them up superficially either because kids know there was some reason you split.

One of the big temptations is to use the children as spies or reporters of what is going on with the Ex. Or worse yet, use them as pawns in the bargaining between the parents, such as "If you do not..., then you can’t see Johnny this week," or even worse, using it as a lever with the children: "If you do not..., you can’t go with your father this weekend."

Respect visitation rights with the missing parent as an absolute thing that can be shaken only by grave happenings. If the children want to be with the missing parent or the missing parent wants to be with them certain times, let them - even if it inconveniences you.

When the missing parent knows they can see their children as often as they want, and the children know they can see the missing parent as often as they want (at least as far as you are concerned anyway), then it takes the fear and frustration out of the divorce hassle. The Ex and the children will both soon tire of this privilege if it is used excessively, so you won’t be inconvenienced too long.

Another thing we forget is that we need to talk about our own divorce adjustment and inner emotional turmoil (and war with the Ex) so much so often that, not always having someone to talk to about this, we drop this on the children and try to make them our counselor. Again, a bad mistake.

Another common mistake is to become Super Momma or Disneyland Daddy. The mother who says "My whole life is my children" becomes Super Momma. She is not only doing herself a disfavor, she is not helping the children either.

The mother needs to lead a rounded life of her own to raise well-adjusted children. The father who tries to make up for his absence by taking them to all sorts of exciting places when he has visitation is also missing the boat. What they need is attention, not just a tour guide to the land of make-believe.

When the parents start dating again, avoid exposing the children to a whirlwind change of different people. When you have a relationship or relationships going that appear to be fairly constant for at least some period of time, then allow more contact between the dates and the children.

As far as sexual relationships go, the experts advise that if you try to deceive the children by claiming that John slept on the couch all night, you are not fooling the children. Be honest. Explain you are over 21 and have adult needs. If you have teenagers, explain that you are an adult and have the emotional maturity to handle fulfilling your sexual needs this way. That does not mean they should do the same or have clearance to do so (until they are an adult too).

Remember, many fathers (or the missing mothers) give more needed attention in a short time with visitation than they did when they lived with the children full-time. Encourage the children to spend as much time as possible with the missing parent and encourage the missing parent to see the children as often as possible also.

If you are the missing parent, instead of just taking the children when you want to or when it is convenient for you, cooperate and offer to take the children when the custodial parent wants to be free of them for various reasons or times. Accept some of the responsibility and you will get cooperation when you need it, too.

Children can grow and expand their life with new adult relationships of both parents, winding up with a double set of parents that care about them.

While it looks like they are getting short-changed now, they will probably be in better shape later when all the divorce smoke has cleared.

Part 2 Next Issue