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parenting tips for divorce damage control

Mar 3, 2008
While divorce is a sign of freedom for couples in a bad relationship, it leaves scars on the minds of both partners. Divorce is not a new phenomenon, as many would have us believe. People have been getting into marriage and walking out of it from times immemorial.

Whichever way you look at it, divorce means something went wrong. Two people who, for all the right or wrong reasons, had pledged themselves to stick together to provide a secure family base for their children, are now splitting up. It didn't work out the way it was supposed to.

That is always sad.

But, if it has happened or is going to happen, it is best to look ahead and not dwell on the past and dig old wounds. It will only make life more difficult, whereas you need all the positive energy to move on in life and make the best of a bad situation.

One thing is clear: No one wants to get divorced. But if, it happens or is going to happen, we should try to minimize its impact on all concerned, especially children.

So, for the sake of the children, here are some tips on how to minimize the impact on the kids:

1. Children love both parents. Ideally, you should stick to the marriage for the sake of children, but if it is making everyone unhappy, then it's best to put an end to it. It's important to remember you have a responsibility towards your children to provide a loving and caring home with both parents.

If your relationship is struggling, for whatever reason, be honest about it and seek some help - either for yourself, or jointly as a couple. Do whatever it takes to re-kindle the love you once had.

Note, this does NOT mean you should put up with an abusive relationship just to "stay together for the children". Ongoing violence, drug abuse, acrimony, etc are NOT good for children. If you really need to get out, then get out.

2. Once you have taken the decision to go in for a divorce, go about it in grown-up manner and as far as possible try to separate amicably. Discuss it and agree that under the circumstances it is best to separate. Avoid lengthy court battles and custody disputes; they will drain you out emotionally and financially. Hurt feelings will become impediments in your efforts to move on with life. You can't begin to imagine what impact it can have on the children.

3. Even if the other person has hurt you badly, he is still the parent of your child. And no child likes to hear bad things about their parents. Be honest with your children and answer their questions as dispassionately as you can, even though it may not be easy at times. Also, you need to reassure them that you are not going to leave too. Most children feel abandoned.

4. At the same time, do not defend the other parent if he/she proves to be constantly unreliable - not turning up for visits when promised, failing to send cards and presents, etc. Your child will be deeply disappointed, hurt, perplexed, and will believe (s)he must have done something wrong. Make it quite clear that it is NOT your child's fault that you separated, nor their fault that the other parent is so unreliable.

5. Another very important aspect is to encourage your children to keep in touch with the other parent for as long as it is a positive experience for them. Encourage visits, phone calls and letters. Let your child get the love and attention of both parents despite your feelings.

6. Do NOT use your children as a messenger between two immature adults who cannot even find a way to talk civilly to each other.

7. In extreme cases you might have to take drastic steps to protect your children if the other parent is harmful or abusive to them. But make sure this perception is not coming from your own pain, guilt or jealousy.

8. If you have a choice, don't go in for joint custody; it doesn't work. The child feels torn between two homes. If the other parent is emotionally and financially strong, let him/her take custody of the child even though it rips you apart. And, take care of the parenting in your house and don't dictate your rules on the other parent in their house.

9. Children are not prepared to see someone else taking the place of their parent. So, be sensitive about bringing strangers into the home. Children keep hoping that their parents will get back together some day. Don't kill their hopes.

10. Above all, work on yourself. Learn from the experience, heal from the wounds, and by setting an example teach your children how to overcome a bad situation and turn it into a good one. If it doesn't kill you, you will come out of it stronger. That's the lesson your children will learn and have hope instead of despair about human relationships.

Don't assume that your children will suffer from your divorce. If you can keep your hurt feelings aside you will sail through this bad situation calmly and in a mature manner. And, be reasonable about allowing the other parent's role in your child's life.

As ever, it all comes back to you being the very best parent that you can.
About the Author
Dr. Noel Swanson specializes in helping parents with their children's behaviors. To read more of his expert parenting advice visit his website and check out his GOOD CHILD Guide manual, jammed full of practical parenting advice.
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