Can divorced parents still act like parents?

Posted on October 22, 2016

Photo: flickr

One set of parents experimented with a trial separation over the summer, when the kids were less likely to be disrupted. Now that school is back in session, they need a real plan. Their negotiation is complicated in that the father isn't willing to truly call the marriage over. Openly, he is negotiating about time with his three kids. Beneath the surface, he doesn't really want to work out a parenting plan because that would only facilitate divorce, something he doesn't want.

Another set of parents is debating about what school is best for their rising middle-schooler. Should she continue in her current district, where Dad resides? Or shift to the marginally better school in Mom’s district next door? The parents had been throwing threats back and forth all summer. Now they are looking for their 11-year-old to break the tie. But there is a problem: They each think she wants what they want.

In a third family, a 16-year-old boy says he’s tired of his week-on, week-off schedule under the joint custody arrangement. Mom claims that her son has been complaining for years and that he wants to live mostly with her. But Dad doubts his son's motivations. He thinks his son wants to live with his mother because she coddles him.

When I mediate with parents who live apart, I ask them to do what I want all parents to do, married or divorced: Talk. Listen. Don't act rashly. Mull over problems and alternative solutions. Look at the issue from all sides, especially from your child's point of view. Keep an open mind. With a little time and perspective, maybe the problem won’t seem so impossible to resolve. Put your children's needs (mostly) above your own feelings. Maintain a united front, even when you disagree. Be a team with discipline. Encourage your children's relationship with their other parent, even if you do not like everything that parent does. Bask in the warm glow of a child who is well loved by you both.

I want divorced parents to just act like parents, so their kids can be just kids, not "children of divorce" or "children from broken homes". Children should not be defined by something that happened to their parents' romantic relationship.

To help explain this, I created a "Hierarchy of Children’s Needs in Two Homes." It's modeled after Abraham Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Human Needs," in which biological needs form Maslow's base, essential emotional needs fit in the middle, and at the top, Maslow placed "self-actualization."

Even after three decades working as a psychologist and an academic, I don't know what self-actualization is. But for children living in two homes, I have a goal that is close enough: getting to be a kid. If divorced parents act like parents, their kids can be kids. That is the pinnacle of my Hierarchy of Children's Needs in Two Homes.
But just because a parent is available doesn't mean a child’s emotional well-being is set. A study by psychologists at Arizona State University identified three types of divorced fathers' involvement: very involved dads with lots of conflict with their exes; moderately involved dads with few disputes; and pretty uninvolved dads with moderate conflict.

The profile that predicted better adjustment nine years in the future? Low conflict and moderate involvement. Young people whose fathers were very involved but fought frequently were no better off than those whose dads were uninvolved.

This is why it's important that divorced parents act like parents, not like litigants or spurned lovers. They can find a way to love their kids more than they may hate their exes.

To read the full article, click on the link below.

Category(s):Child and/or Adolescent Issues, Divorce / Divorce Adjustment, Family Problems, Parenting

Source material from The Washington Post

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