In the next several posts, we’ll take a look at the 5 worst divorce mistakes you can make, as compiled by family law attorneys and marriage counselors across America. If you’re seeking a divorce, or the process has already begun, we hope these words of advice can help you avoid the pitfalls of the end of matrimony.
MISTAKE #1: INVOLVING THE KIDS
The bottom line is, children want to love both their parents – and should be given that opportunity. Even if one parent starts an argument, and uses a child to channel that argument through, responding only does more damage to him or her. The instinct to respond and defend yourself is the wrong choice. Why? Because the only result is it keeps the child in the middle of the argument. That’s the last place they belong.
The best strategy for dealing with children during a divorce is to make sure to provide them with as much stability as possible, and to remember that they still want – and deserve – the chance to bond with their parents. Both of you.
The mistakes parents make when their children are involved in a divorce case range from a simple under-the-breath angry snide comment about the soon-to-be ex, to a grandiose argument desperately designed to win over your child. You may think they’re old enough to understand, but they’re not. Purposeful comments meant to alienate the child from the other parent and “turn them against” them are very damaging as well.
In any of these cases above, the damage to the child can be significant. A simple frustrated comment by a parent can drop a child square in the middle of an argument…one they truly can’t understand. Children are naturally wired to want to please their parents and will often agree with both of them, only increasing their stress and fear when they hear what they think are their parents’ preferences of one child over a sibling.
In the book Planning for Shared Planning: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, sponsored by the Massachusetts Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, the following bullet points for divorcing parents lead to greater benefits for the children when their parents are bound for Splitsville:
- Communicate with each other in a courteous “businesslike” manner.
- Are on time and have children ready at exchange time.
- Avoid any communication that may lead to conflict at exchange time.
- Encourage the children to carry “important” items such as clothing, toys and security blankets with them between the parents’ homes.
- Follow reasonably similar routines for mealtime, bedtime and homework time.
- Communicate about rules and discipline in order to handle them in similar ways.
- Support contact with grandparents and other extended family so the children do not experience a sense of loss.
- Are flexible in developing parenting plans to accommodate their child’s extracurricular activities and special family celebrations.
- Make time to spend alone with their children when the parent has a new partner.
- Are with their children during scheduled times and communicate with their children when they cannot be with them.
- Respect the other parent’s scheduled times with children and do not schedule plans that will conflict.
- Discuss any proposed schedule changes directly with the other parent.
- Support the child’s relationship with the other parent and trust the other’s parenting skills.
- Assure the children that they did not cause the divorce and that they do not have the power to reverse the process.
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