From time to time, we’ve all had parents come into our offices seeking help when their family is going through a divorce. And, I think we all have those lists of resources and guidelines that we routinely refer to on those occasions when we find ourselves sitting down with parents.
But not all of the resources we come across necessarily reflect what we believe are in the best interests of the families we serve. I recently came across such a list written by Dr. Marilyn Wedge in Psychology Today, and I felt it important to take issue with a few points. As a divorced dad and an elementary school counselor, I need to respectfully disagree with some items that Dr. Wedge presented in her post. My purpose here isn’t to call out another professional. My purpose here is to remind you that not everybody’s helpful list is going to work in your situation. Here are the points Dr. Wedge made, and my subsequent reaction to each:
1. Don’t try to recruit your child into siding with one parent against the other.
Agree. The child loses every time. And nobody wins.
2. Do contain your hostility in front of the children. Hearing divorcing parents argue is the most common cause for a child of divorce to have problems.
Agree. See no. 1.
3. Do renegotiate a healthy co-parenting relationship after divorce. You don’t have to be best friends with your ex, but you do need to have a civilized relationship so that your child is not burdened by your ongoing anger.
Agree, to a point. It’s not impossible to still have angry feelings but still be able to have a working relationship, whatever that might look like. And I’d like to know her definition of ‘renegotiate.’ Many times, that’s a process, not a one-time deal.
4. Don’t badmouth your ex in front of your child. In fact, make a point of telling your child a few good things about the other parent.
Yes. As hard as that may be sometimes. And try not to get sucked in to the “But Mom/Dad said you…” routine that comes up from time to time. Don’t dis your ex in front of your kids. It’s just not done.
5. Do get on the same page with your ex about all rules concerning the children–bedtime, homework, amount of screen time, curfew, and so forth.
Mostly disagree. Although it helps if expectations are the same in both households, the reality is that they won’t be. Whether or not they have the same routine expectations at both houses comes in a distant second behind those expectations revolving around basic principals of respect and responsibility. Don’t throw away the family lifestyle you want to instill in your own children just because you have an ex-spouse who wants it a different way. Believe me: Your kids can handle two different bedtimes. They adjust pretty quickly to different ways of life in both places. And sometimes, that’s not a bad thing.
6. Do take a parenting class or attend family therapy with your ex if you are having trouble coming to agreement about rules and consequences for your child. Allow a professional to help you manage your anger at your ex.
Emphasis here is mine. That’s fine if both parties can agree to see a professional to manage those details, but going in to therapy with your ex to “manage your anger at your ex” is not an advisable therapeutic strategy. Talk to somebody on your own, if you need that. However, if you’re divorced, gone are the days of hashing out your negative feelings about each other with both of you in the room.
7. Don’t badmouth your ex’s parents or other family members. Children love their grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and if a parent says negative things about them the child will feel conflicted.
Agree. And don’t triangulate. Those other relatives don’t want to get caught up in your drama, either.
8. Do reassure your child that she did not do anything to cause the divorce. Children often feel guilty when parents get divorced and need to be reassured that the divorce was not their fault.
9. Do tell your child that both parents will continue to love him and spend time with him.
10. Do tell your child that you expect her to continue to do well and be happy.
Agree with the rest of these. Common sense stuff.
So what do you think? Is this a list you would give to a parent who is seeking assistance about how to help their child? Do you agree with my assessments, or is it good as is? Although there are some good, common sensical points to be had, too much of this is not grounded in the realities of divorced family life. Routinely question the wisdom of the information you give out.
via Top 10 Tips for Divorcing Parents | Psychology Today.
Photo credit: The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, used under this Creative Commons license.