Archive for Divorce
Children and Divorce: The Role Of Having Both Parents Nearby, and Involved.
In my coaching and therapy practice, I frequently consult with parents who are separating or going through a divorce. Children and divorce, when heard in the same sentence, if often words that strike fear into the hearts of parents.
When children and divorce combine with parents seeking to relocate, divorce often becomes very, very messy. In some situations, parents seek to relocate hours away from their ex partner. The courts, when evaluating children and divorce issues, often turn to mental health professionals to offer their opinion. Frequently, mental health experts have supported such relocations based upon the presumptive value of a stable custodial parent, and assume that there will be more happiness and support with an extended family or perhaps a new partner or new employment.
This can be a touchy topic for parents going through divorce. And yet, it is difficult if not impossible, to accurately claim that we know for certain a particular choice is in the “best interest” of a child.
Children and Divorce: Highly Dysfunctional Relationships.
There are times when parents divorce, and it is clear that their relationship is highly dysfunctional and having both parents involved causes harm to children. This is an extremely rare situation, and applies to those parents where there is violence, or extreme personality disorders, or perhaps there is a psychotic or substance abuse parent. Again, these are relatively rare situations, and are best evaluated by an independent expert.
This is not the norm for parents who are going through a fairly typical divorce, and are angry and unhappy with each other. This is not the norm for most couples. In most situations, having both parents involved is good for children.
In the past, mental health professionals frequently supported the overwhelming importance of the primary caretaker. In other words, we have valued that role in a way that minimized the importance of the parent who may be the breadwinner for the family (often, but not always, dad). Yet, most of us are able to recognize that this doesn’t make sense for the modern family where both parents play a very active role in the children’s lives. Now, recent data supports what most of us intuitively understand:
Children Going Through Divorce Thrive More Often With Both Parents Involved!
Some fascinating data has emerged in the last decade, and this research strongly supports the value of having both parents involved (in the majority of situations—not all).
Within four years of separation and divorce, about one fourth of mothers with custody move to a new location. Many fathers obviously disagree with this move, and this poses a dilemma for the courts. In essence, the court struggles with a custodial parent’s desire to create better circumstances for themselves versus the interest of the non-custodial parent’s desire to maintain frequent contact with their children.
In the past, the laws have treated this in an unpredictable manner. Judges have been free to interpret the law in a way that leads to inconsistent decisions.
While the legal issues here are considerably complex, new evidence emerges when we focus the effect upon children. By 1998, there was not a single study that had examined this.
However, in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers looked at the affect of relocation, as reported by college students who had experienced a divorce.
The data in this study are quite compelling, and worthy for parents to consider.
Researchers found eleven variables that demonstrated significant effects for college students. For children whose parent’s relocated more than an hour away, they were disadvantaged on the following variables:
• Less financial support for college expenses.
• More worry about college expenses.
• Decrease personal and emotional adjustment.
• Decrease general life satisfaction.
• Larger degree of hostility.
• Greater internal turmoil and distress.
• More impairment in rapport with parents.
• Less respect for parents as role models.
• Parental relationship between each other significantly impaired.
• Global health reduced (primarily for girls)
These results point to a common sense conclusion supported by most parents who remain together: “the kids need both parents.” There was no data to support this general conclusion until recently. However, these results are quite compelling.
In my program, Terrific Parenting Through Divorce, I discuss the importance of careful thought to children and effects of divorce, as well as the kinds of critical decisions parents can make to buffer their children from the impact of divorce. You may want to check out my manual for children and divorce.
During the recent February school vacation week, I took my first vacation, without my kids, since long before my divorce 5 years ago. My sons spent a wonderful week with their father and his girlfriend skiing in Vermont. After the vacation and during the first 15 minutes that I was re-united with my sons they told me that their dad and his girlfriend were getting married. They recounted “the proposal” on Valentine’s Day and that they would be the ring bearers in the wedding ceremony. I expressed great happiness to my sons and told them how wonderful it is to find someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with. I think my show of delight at my ex-spouses engagement set my sons minds at ease. So much so, that they began to express concerns about their father moving to the next town and how would he bring them to school sometimes and that his new fiances house didn’t have their bedroom set up yet…etc. After I re-assured them of their concerns, their minds turned to me! They began questioning when I would get married. Why would I not marry my boyfriend now and how wonderful it would be to have 2 additional brothers in the household to play with. I talked to them about the importance of committment and that it takes awhile to be sure that you love someone so much that you want to marry them.
I wonder what others have said or done in divorce situations? How have you handled emotions and strategies about talking to your kids about your divorce or re-marriage? I wonder how my sons will grow up in world of divorced and blended families? Will they really ever learn about committment, honor and most importantly love?
On Dr. Cale’s website about divorce, I read this little bullet which stuck with me:
Why a Powerless Parent, Like Alec Baldwin, Reacts with Anger!
(And How Children Learn To “Tune-out” Powerless Parents.)
In a research article published in the journal, Child Development, the authors explored the ways in which children learn how to respond when parents behave in powerless ways. In this article, I will explain the specific implications of these findings for parenting, and for the recent fiasco between Alec Baldwin and his daughter.
These findings serve to highlight and support a conclusion that I have observed for years with parents:
When parents feel they have lost control, they compensate with controlling, power driven strategies that only serve to make the situation worse.
Powerless Parents Use Exaggerated Tactics