I have blogged here recently on a shift of the court to a more equal time-sharing structure between the divorcing parents. I wanted to tie this in with a blog post on parents behavior during the divorce process. It cannot be stated strongly enough that the divorce process is very hard emotionally for children. Divorce is exceptionally hard and parents can make it worse by their behavior in front of the children. I often implore and remind divorcing parents not to disparage the other parent in front of the children. Remember, the children are one-half of the other parent you are divorcing, both biologically and emotionally. When you disparage the other parent, aren't you also in effect disparaging one-half of the child as well? Children often internalize the criticism that way.
There has been much research on Divorce and Impact on Children, and researchers now view "conflict" - rather than the divorce or parenting-time schedule- as the single most critical determining factor in childrens' post-divorce adjustment. Some of this research spans 30 years or more and follows children from the '70s into adulthood. It has been shown that the children who succeed after divorce, have parents who can communicate effectively and work together as parents. The treat raising the children as something that needs to be done effectively despite their own feels about the other parent. The better the two parents can work together to raise the children, the more successful the children will be in their endeavors. This seems axiomatic but it is very hard for parents, as people with real human emotions, to move past the pain of divorce and focus on the needs of the children.
Additionally, research has further shown that the children's psychological reactions to their parents' divorce vary in degree dependent on three factors: (1) the quality of their relationship with each of their parents before the separation, (2) the intensity and duration of the parental conflict, and (3) the parents' ability to focus on the needs of children in their divorce.
A child's continued involvement with both of his or her parents allows for realistic and better balanced future relationships. Children learn how to be in relationship by their relationship with their parents. If they are secure in their relationship with their parents, chances are they will adapt well to various time-sharing schedules and experience security and fulfillment in their intimate relationships in adulthood.
One important factor which contributes to the quality and quantity of the involvement of a father in a child's life is mother's attitude toward the child's relationship with father. When fathers leave the marriage and withdraw from their parenting role as well, the fathers report conflicts with the mother as the major reason. A father's continued involvement and active participation cannot not be stated enough. Being a "weekend parent" is just not enough.
The article below (in PDF format) is a transcript of an address that Dr. Joan Kelly gave in Australia. Dr. Kelly is a preeminent researcher and lecturer on Divorce and Children. Australia seems to be a leader world wide in post-divorce arrangements that focus on the meeting the best interests the children. Although Florida has legally abolished the "tender years doctrine" (which asserts that the primary caregiver, usually the mother, should have the vast majority of time with the children as anything else would be detrimental to the children) it is now just reformulated into what is considered "standard visitation," which is basically an "every other weekend schedule."
Dr. Kelly describes the long-standing idea of the "home-base" theory that situates the children firmly in one home, which is closely related to the "tender years" doctrine. Dr. Kelly's research shows that children often want something much more equal, and that it comes at no developmental cost to the children.
Needs of Children
In the 70s and 80s, mental health professionals in particular believed that children had to have one home base or setting. This belief guided a lot of the thinking about how living arrangements are made when parents are in dispute or simply functioning in the shadow of the law when deciding on the contact arrangements."
"...research both in New Zealand and Australia has asked children about access and the kind of time that they would like to spend with their parents. More than half of kids say that they would like to spend much more time with their non-resident parent, usually fathers, and if you ask college students whose parents have been divorced for ten years what they would have liked, more than 50 per cent of those kids say, 'What I really wanted was equal time, but I also knew that my mother was opposed to it.'..."
"...when children continue to have a meaningful involvement with both parents after separation, there's no difference between those children and married family children, in terms of psychological adjustment, social and emotional adjustment."
Practical Resources For Separating Families - Australian Institute Of Family Studies.pdf
Here are some things to think about in Divorce and Children:
- Try very hard not to place an emotional burden on your children. If you need someone to talk to call your best friend or your mother. Don't unload your emotions on your children.
- Try very hard to keep the emotional well-being of your children paramount to anything else while you are going through the divorce.
- Do not use your children as an emotional crutch. They just can't take the pressure.
- Do not discuss finances with them. Do not tell them that you can't do _________ because the other parent hasn't provided any money.
- Do not say anything disparaging about the other parent either to your children or within their hearing.
- Do not restrict a child's contact with the other parent. Encourage visitation and contact between the child and the other parent. This parenting time with both parents in exceptionally important to the child's psychological well-being.
- Please do not ask a child to spy for you, or to pass messages back and forth. Don't ask what happened at the other parent's house to get more information. Children often times feel very caught "in the middle" by this behavior.
- Naturally, your child will have questions. Answer them as truthfully as you can, in an age appropriate manner, without frightening him or disparaging the other parent. If this is a time when you, as a divorcing spouse, are frightened and upset, don't allow this to be passed on to your child.