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This of course is a topic approached with sincerity and sensitivity, but one that is important to reflect on with the idea of manners and social graces. Although we could spend many words on etiquette between the separating spouses, let’s focus on the children and how we can help this difficult transition be as gentle as possible.
Before a separation or divorce, it is respectful and honorable that both parents sit down with their children together and explain what’s happening before one parent decides to move out. Children should hear this news from their parents, not other family members or friends. These moments can be extremely important as it is a time to reassure children of the love that both parents have for them and it sends a message to the children that when it comes to parenting, both parents are willing to set aside their differences and parent their children as a parenting unit.
To a child, divorce or separation (which to them means divorce) ends their world as they know it. It is usually devastating regardless of the circumstances. However, as both parents make a commitment to their children in front of each other that they will do their best to NEVER make their children feel like a go-between or like they have to choose one parent over the other, children will feel more secure in the coming changes. Children do not need to be involved in issues they can’t understand. Statistics show that even when there is abuse, most children want their parents to stay together, reminding all of us of the uncertainty and devastation that children feel when their parents separate.
Statistics also show that children who appear to have the most success and have the least amount of reported trauma stemming from a divorce, are those who continue to have a healthy relationship with both parents after the divorce. Relationships are nurtured with quality time spent together and when visits with parents are without fear of offense to the other parent. As each parent encourages their children to love the other parent, these children will tend to be more open about their true feelings regarding the divorce, new relationships their parents have and other important family dynamics. Trying to convince a child why they should withhold their love, time or attention to a parent is a sure way to cause confusion, guilt and bitterness in children (I am not speaking of circumstances where one parent is guilty of abuse towards a child. That is another circumstance all together that calls for special council and considerations).
This is by no means the only advice to offer on this subject. I would encourage both parents to seek advice from people who the children’s best interest at heart and clergy and sociologist are always a good resource. Sometimes we tend to take advice from our friends who have a hard time discerning between their loyalty to us and what’s really best.
Here are a few other things to consider:
Having consistent rules between both houses is very beneficial for the children. Rules should stay as they were when both parents lived together to limit the changes the children have to endure.
NEVER allow a child to hear one parent speaking negatively about the other parent. Children tend to associate themselves with their parents and regardless of what one parent does, they continue to love them. When children hear their parents speak negatively about the other parent, they feel hurt and betrayal by even being privy to the conversation. Please don’t place any child in this situation.
Stop asking. “Quizzing” a child regarding what they did, who they did it with, what they ate, etc. regarding their visit with the other parent is crossing the line of abuse in my opinion. Children are not that naive. This makes children extremely uncomfortable, causes them increased stress and can cause them to “shut down” and become withdrawn as a defensive mechanism.
Let’s make sure we do not cause any child one more ounce of stress, pain and hurt than is already caused by the loss of the life as they knew it. Encourage them to love their parents. Be happy when they have a happy, healthy relationship with each parent. Allow them to love, uninhibited, so that they are secure with our dedication to their happiness.
Have a great month.
a.k.a. Mary Manners