When parents decide to divorce, the most difficult thing is telling the children.
I share an office with licensed professional counselor Judith Mee, who works with families facing this issue.
Mee served as executive director of Calm Waters for more than eight years before going into private practice. Calm Waters is a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to offer support groups for children after experiencing a loss due to the death of a family member. Under Mee’s leadership, a curriculum was developed to also offer support groups for kids whose parents are divorced.
With her expertise in this area, I asked her for suggestions for parents facing this situation.
DO talk. The first thing she suggests is that parents sit down together when possible, and tell the children what is going to happen and assure them although Mom and Dad will no longer be living together, they will always love the children and will take care of them.
DO NOT badmouth the other parent.
DO NOT fight in front of the child.
DO NOT put the child in the middle — asking him or her to carry messages back and forth or to take sides.
DO NOT make the child your confidant.
DO NOT introduce a third party into the child’s life until the divorce is final.
DO try to maintain a cordial and respectful relationship. Regardless of how you personally feel about the other adult, the child has a right to feel good about both parents.
DO provide the child an ongoing, consistent amount of time with each parent and provide information about where the other parent is and how and when he or she can be contacted.
DO allow the child to ask questions and express his or her feelings.
DO let the child’s teachers, and any adult who works with him or her in other settings, know what is happening.
DO make sure the child knows what is expected of him or her at each parent’s home.
DO attend Calm Water support groups. Under the leadership of Executive Director Barbara Butner, the program has expanded, and more services are now offered. It is free and a valuable resource for kids and parents. Check it out at www.calmwaters.org.
Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.