At a recent conference, therapists and attorneys expressed their concern about what is happening between parents going through divorce. There appears to be an increase in violence, viciousness, putting children in the middle and sadly, not letting go of the anger toward a former partner. Why is this happening and what can we do about it?
From my perspective, grief is not dealt with adequately; loss, pain, hurt become entangled with a ball of anger that becomes a cement wall between parents. Parents can keep conflict between them fueled and hire professionals who are instructed to keep the fight going. While professionals, including judges, attorneys, mediators and mental health professionals want to help parents disengage from their relationship in a civil manner, we can't make them. A judge can order that parents not bad mouth each other in front of the children, but that judge can't go home with the parents to monitor their behavior. There is no one to monitor parent follow-through. Children's needs often go unaddressed; they are still treated like property. Their unique needs and challenges become additional weapons parents use against each other.
Society doesn't give families time to grieve. Is there really a way to quickly work through grief, as many would believe from various "sound bite" statements and reinforced by the media? How can you be told that your partner wants to leave, and still remain a loving parent and go to work and come home as if nothing happened? The reality is that the sudden change in life and family happens overnight and parents are expected to resume normalcy the next day, as are the 1 million children under the age of 18 whose parents split.
When seeking help for their children, parents often expect monumental change -- particularly when they have the unrealistic expectation that therapy consists of dropping off their children for a therapeutic "fix." Can we think about how many years it took to impact a child in a way that is reflected in the behavior we are supposed to fix? Can we really expect children to respect their parents when they have been told repeatedly by each parent about how horrible the other parent is?
Even though parents may spend thousands of dollars on litigation and repeat their court experiences, there is little accountability that prompts parents to follow through with what a judge orders.
While technology has opened new worlds for each of us, it has also obstructed face-to-face verbal communication where all emotions can be expressed in an attempt to understand and then respond. While in some respects technology may provide the veil that makes it easier
to "speak" via online communication, it doesn't build a repertoire of communication in which both parties improve their listening and responding skills. Many parents state they will not speak directly to their children's other parent, "only through texting or e-mail." I often hear, "We can't communicate." This is not acceptable. Parents need to communicate in person and focus on addressing the needs of each of their children in a constructive manner.
Children don't count as much as they need to; their needs are glossed over with statements like "they'll get over it." They do get over it somewhat but they adjust in much healthier ways when both parents work together to address their children's needs. Our center developed an online tool, Family Connex, that helps parents address the major developmental considerations of each of their children -- first separately, then together. A road map to raise children goes far beyond the number of days they will spend with each parent.
7 Tips to Promote a Sane and Child Focused Divorce
1. Understand what therapy is, what goals are and how therapists and clients work to achieve those goals. Choose a therapist you trust and support that therapist in working with your child.
2. Explain the transition in easy-to-understand ways for children; reassure them that they are loved and children can love each parent.
3. Model for your children how you want them to treat you. If you take the time to reach out and listen, you will have the answers
4. Take the money you would have spent on legal professionals in court and distribute to your children's educational accounts.
5. Each parent needs to hear the voice of their children before they make decisions about activities, access, school, religion -- this needs to be discussed. The center I direct uses a wonderful online tool to help parents focus on their children's needs in a customized way and goes far beyond developing a comprehensive parent plan that serves as a road map throughout the co-parenting process.
6. Helping parents through transitions is a life-long process. Conflict, violence and hostility don't support children; these behaviors destroy them. Every parent has a choice to take the "high road" and provide for their children the very factors that predict healthy divorce adjustment -- the number one factor being that parents don't put their children in the middle of their conflict.
7. Those of us who are parents know that it takes a village to raise children; it also takes a village to support parents through a healthy transition, one that includes letting go of the hatred, vengeance and retaliation.