Divorce statistics in the 21st century now range between 50-75% of all marriages. Second marriages are more susceptible to divorce than are first marriages. Many of these dissolving marriages involve children. Today more people are also having children without being married and these relationships may also have a high dissolution rate, although accurate statistics are more scarce than for divorce. Bottom line – – lots of children are experiencing the separation of their parents’ relationship. If you are a parent in these circumstances (or know someone who is), how can you help?
First and foremost, parents must NOT put their child(ren) in the middle of the relationship problems. This means under no circumstances should you bad mouth your partner in front of or to the child. Do not send messages to your partner through the child even if it’s more convenient for you. Talk to your peers, not your child(ren), about the relationship issues.
Talk to your child(ren) in an age appropriate way about what’s happening with the separation, what it does (e.g., both parents still love them very much) and does not mean for them (e.g., the parent is not divorcing them) and how their relationship will continue with the parent who will not have primary physical custody.
Be civil and courteous to your child’s other parent even after the relationship ends. You have a child or children to raise together whether or not the relationship worked out. It’s very difficult to co-parent effectively if you are remaining hostile.
The child(ren) need to have ongoing relationships with both parents. For non-custodial parents that means maintaining contact frequently in a normal way (vs. being only an “amusement park parent”). Attend school functions, birthday parties and get to know their changing friends. For custodial parents that means do not interfere with your child’s ability to have an ongoing relationship by keeping the other parent out of the loop or by making visitation difficult.
Remember that your child(ren) need you more during the early phases of the separating process. While this is often when parents have little emotional reserve due to their own grief, it is vital that your child(ren) not get lost in the commotion. Spend a little extra one on one time to talk, cuddle, read or just be together.
Relationship endings are painful, confusing processes. Sometimes anger and the desire to get revenge or hurt the past partner get in the way of good decision making around the children. Often it’s a good idea to have couples counseling around the ending to help make the transition go more smoothly for the children. If you are in the process of ending a relationship that involves children, or are having difficulty co-parenting with a past partner and want some assistance, please make an appointment with a mental health professional today.