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Four Cautions for Both Parents to Heed

Posted Nov 20 2010 2:26pm

When a divorce is handled civilly, and the childrens' needs are truly put ahead of both parent's, then the result is really a good situation for the family. However, this scenario in which both parents act like adults is the exception rather than the rule. Too often, at least one parent borders on, or demonstrates, narcissistic tendencies that make co-parenting nearly impossible.

Whether the divorce is courteous or contentious, there are five rules of behavior that every well meaning parent can follow to keep the emotional impact to the children at a minimum. These concepts are offered by, and adapted from an interview with M. Gary Newuman, LMHC, a family and divorce therapist at WebMD .
  • Don't make your child the messenger. This is especially critical in the early days and months following the separation and into the divorce. Too many parents find it easier to play telephone tag, using their children, to pass along messages. This produces untold emotional stress for the child, and forces the child into a position of acting as the go-between. There is no worse task for a child than to be the mouthpiece for one or both parents. The failure to communicate will only continue with the child learning way more about adult problems than is necessary or warranted. Use Email or text messaging. There form of communication are excellent tools for contacting your ex-spouse as it can diffuse the emotion and focus on the concrete issue that needs attention. You can address the specifics of any parenting concerns or scheduling issues without "detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds," says Newman, founder and director of the Sandcastles Program ™ Inc ., a nationwide divorce therapy program for children. These indirect written forms of communication also provide a documented record of the exchange, which tends to make the parties more careful about what is said.
  • Don't Treat Your Child As Your Therapist.  Put simply, you can pick your spouse and dispose of/be disposed of, but your children are connected to both parents for better or worse until death due they part. Whatever you feel about your spouse, spare your children. They must be allowed to forge a relationship with each parent on their own terms. While it can be very tempting, even irresistible, to share intimate details about the problem(s) you are having with the ex, your kids don't need to hear it. There is nothing useful about haring the gory emotional mess that ultimately led to divorce. Remember they are dealing with their own emotional turmoil--especially if they've hit the tweens/teens-- and, don't need be saddled with your turmoil, too. While they can be counted on to be very understanding, it's not an appropriate role for them. They are the children; you must remain the parent. Call a friend to let it out, or seek therapy. "Making your child your cohort is wrong and does them damage," according to Newman.
  • Avoid the third degree. Parents should view the weekends that the children are with the other parent as if they are visiting their grandparents or a friend," advises Neuman. The silent treatment--not talking about it at all-- tends to cause children more stress because they are being forced to compartmentalize their two worlds and feel that they must deny one half of their world when they are in the other. Conversely, peppering a child with questions puts him in an untenable position. (See Point 1 above). Stick to general questions that will diffuse any tension, and allow your child to divulge as much or as little as her comfort permits. Most importantly, don't comment or editorialize.Listen, then let it go.
  • Repair the damage you've already done. Many of you recognize mistakes they've unintentionally made with their own kids. Is it ever too late to undo emotional fall-out from a nasty split? "No, children are remarkably forgiving, says Neuman. "At least until they reach their later teen years, when anger may be more cemented. If you've made mistakes, it's important to do the following:

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