Co-parenting and Child Custody: Helping your child navigate the difficult path of your divorce

When parents decide to end their marriage, children are effected. Their lives change and this change can be drastic or less dramatic depending on how you, their parents, handle the divorce. The following are a few important points to consider:

When you as parents, make the decision to divorce, you need to discuss this with your child together providing a clear and uncomplicated explanation. During this time it is important to emphasize to your child that it is not their fault. Many children tend to blame themselves and they tend to take this blame with them into their adult years. Therefore, explain to your child that there is nothing that they did to cause this divorce and nothing they can do to get you and your spouse, back together. At this time each parent needs to reassure your child that you will continue to love him/her and that your child will always be a part of both of your lives.

The stress of a divorce will take it’s toll on you while you are forced to make many decisions that you never thought you would ever have to make. This is true for your child who is now experiencing a lot of changes in his/her life. Therefore, it is even more imperative for you to provide as much stability in your child’s life as possible during this time especially when deciding on living arrangements. Some parents and divorce experts have suggested that parents keep the primary, original residence, and allow the children to live there permanently while each parent takes turns living at the residence. This arrangement is intended to provide some sense of stability. However, many families cannot afford to keep their original residence after divorce or simply cannot agree on this option and are forced to find other housing. When this occurs it is important to focus on providing a stable environment for your child. Therefore, if you have two separate households for your child, help him/her to feel that in each place, they have a safe, comfortable, and stable space. Make sure they have the food and clothing as well as academic materials necessary to perform well in school each day and thrive when not in school.

During the divorce process it is not uncommon for the children to “take sides” or align with one parent or the other based on gender or pre-divorce relationships. When this occurs, it is important to remain consistently mature regarding the other parent. Refrain from making negative or untrue comments to your child about the other parent or the other parent’s family. This will further confuse and alienate your child from the other parent and later the child may come to resent you for doing that. Refrain from making your child have to choose between you and your ex-spouse. Don’t play the loyalty game. That just confuses and further harms your child.

When you want to communicate with your child who is in the custody of your ex-spouse, and does not have his/her own phone, make appropriate arrangements with the custodial parent to communicate at the same time, day or evening, with your child. Respect your child’s schedule and whether it is a school night. A predictable and agreed upon call/contact schedule allows your child to feel a sense of control and consistency that further helps him/her to deal more effectively with the divorce.

Take responsibility for your child’s future and make sure your child is taken care of, not only emotionally and physically but, financially. Do not withhold your financial or custodial obligation from your ex-spouse as it will hurt your child the most. It will only come back to haunt you in the future when you child grows up and resents you for neglect. I have seen this too often in the adult children whose parents have divorced. When mediating an agreed upon schedule of joint custody, cooperate with your ex-spouse for the sake of your child. Make appropriate decisions based on your child’s needs, and his or her schedule, activities and preferences. Remember, it was not the child who divorced, so do not take out your frustration on your child.

In general, maintain, consistency, continuity and compassion for your child. Be a mature grown-up. Remember, you are his/her role model for problem solving and human relationships. Let the goal of stability and maturity be your guide. Ask yourself, before making a decision based on emotion, “is this in the best interest of my child?” Your child’s response to divorce will be determined by the degree of conflict during and post divorce as well as their own personality and ability to cope with stressors. This ability to handle stressors is often referred to as resilience. Your own emotional response will also effect your child no matter how hard you try to hide it from him/her. If you recover fairly well from this emotional time in your life, so will your child. If you or your child is having difficulty in dealing with the divorce, it is best to obtain therapy from a Licensed Counselor or Psychologist to help you and your child navigate this difficult divorce process.

Karen L. Wolman, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist PY6288



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