Children and Divorce
Many families in the United States are touched by divorce. The current divorce rate is calculated to be between 40 and 60% for those recently married and up to 10% higher for remarriages. A majority of divorces occur in families with children under the age of 18.
Divorce propels adults and children into numerous adjustments and challenges. While each child’s acclimation to divorce is different, the majority will weather these changes successfully, and grow-up to become well-adjusted adults. However, up to a 25% of children whose parents divorce experience ongoing emotional and behavior difficulties (as compared to 10% of children whose parents do not divorce).
Spouses divorce each other, but they do not divorce their children. A majority of former spouses are able to establish a relatively conflict-free parenting relationship for the benefit of their children. However, about a third have difficulty in establishing a workable parenting relationship, even years after the divorce.
In her research on divorcing parents, family therapist Constance Ahrons identified different types of post-divorce parenting relationships: “perfect pals,” “cooperative colleagues,” “angry associates,” “fiery foes,” and “dissolved duos.” However, even when parents are “angry associates” or “fiery foes,” there are ways they can develop cooperative or business-like relationships for the sake of their children. Parental conflict can hinder children’s adjustment and good co-parenting skills are very important to a child’s adjustment.Most parents who have a difficult relationship with their ex-spouse but who want to co-parent start out with “parallel parenting.” In this arrangement, each parent assumes total responsibility for the children during the time they are together; there is no expectation of flexibility and little contact with the other parent. As time goes on and anger dissipates, parents may develop some version of “cooperative parenting.” In this arrangement, parents communicate directly and in a business-like manner regarding the children and co-parenting schedules. Marriage and family therapists can be helpful to families as they formulate or define their post-divorce parenting relationships.
How can you help your children?
- Tell children about the divorce together, if possible.
- Answer children’s questions honestly, avoiding unnecessary details.
- Reassure children they are not to blame for divorce.
- Tell children they are loved and will be taken care of.
- Include the other parent in school and other activities.
- Be consistent and on time to pick up and return children.
- Develop a workable parenting plan that gives children access to both parents.
- Guard against canceling plans with children.
- Give children permission to have a loving, satisfying relationship with other parent.
- Avoid putting children in the middle and in the position of having to take sides.
- Avoid pumping children for information about the other parent.
- Avoid arguing and discussing child support issues in front of children.
- Avoid speaking negatively about the other parent or using the child as a pawn to hurt the other parent.
How do you know when to seek help?
When your children show signs of stress:
- Acting younger than their chronological age
- Showing fear of being apart from parent(s)
- Experiencing moodiness
- Acting out
- Being manipulative
- Experiencing sadness and depression
- Struggling with guilt
- Having sleep or eating problems
- Undergoing change in personality
- Having academic and peer problems
- Displaying irrational fears and compulsive behavior
Source: AAMFT website “Children and Divorce”
Pacific Rim Play Therapy can work with families experiencing the changes associated with divorce. Services can include play therapy for children of divorce or separation, adjustment issues as well as co-parenting relationship therapy for the adults as well as blended families.Co-parenting sessions with adults focus on improving communication, resolving conflicts and developing plans as children transition from between residences or visitation arrangements. At times agreements are made that help the children adjust to changes in scheduling and routines between all adults involved. Co-parenting sessions and mutual agreements are not legally binding, do not substitute for mediation services nor constitute legal advice nor formal divorce filings but simply discussions to help with the adjustment process for the family. If you need legal counsel seek legal representation by an attorney of your choice.