Which One are You?
One of the issues that divorcing parents sometimes fail to recognize is the impact of the separation/divorce on their children. The children might feel like they are losing one parent which can be very frightening to them. It’s very important to look at some of the empirical data available from various organizations like The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), which tell us that there are certain guidelines to follow in helping children weather this difficult time. Here are a few ideas that have proven successful during my years of practice.
Children generally do best when both parents are involved in their lives and share equally in the parenting responsibilities. This means that both of you share equally in disciplining and having fun with the children. Too often there is a “disciplining parent” and a “party parent.” The disciplining parent generally is the parent with whom the kids primarily live. The disciplining parent creates rules and boundaries, such as when you come in from school you can’t watch TV until homework and chores are done. Often, the parent the children don’t primarily live with (the non-custodial parent) becomes the party parent. This parent has a limited amount of time with the children and whether driven by feelings of guilt from separation or trying to be a friend to the children rather than a parent, “It’s time to paaaar – teeeeeeeee!” This is a big mistake. This is not being a parent. This is being a nincompoop. Do you really have to be told that being a parent is about sharing the parenting duties, not being a friend or buddy?
- Children need to have clear boundaries and structure.
- Children need you to tell them what is expected of them.
- Children need a clear set of rules to follow.
- Parents need to establish and follow the same set of rules.
- Parents need to put aside their anger with each other to be effective parents.
If your children are bouncing between two households, they will take advantage, playing one parent against the other. Mom said no, but maybe Dad will say yes. They ask both of you the same thing with the hope that one of you will give in. As parents/ex-spouses, you still have to communicate with each other no matter how unpleasant it may be, for the sake of the children.
As important as structured time is, it is just as important for the children to have “down time” or unstructured time. Let them use their imaginations and be kids. Don’t fill every second of their lives with an activity. Allow them time to just be children.
Parents should understand a child’s need for stability, especially at the time of separation and divorce. As little change as possible in their daily routines is better for them. Try to maintain stable, nurturing relationships that already exist such as between their friends or caregivers, other family members and activities. Changes such as sleepovers at the other parent’s home should be phased in slowly over a period of time.
Be aware that parenting plans, especially for young children, need to be modified and adjusted over time. When the children go from nursery school or day-care into full time school, when they are engaged in after-school activities, when there is homework, adjustments in the parenting schedules will need to be made. Also, you may be getting into new relationships, meeting other people who may also have children. Things can get very complicated. Just be aware that these parenting plans are not written in stone and can change yearly.
So have fun doing the school projects that keep you up until 2 AM, the dioramas, making the costumes, and keeping track of the school trips. This is really what parenting is all about.
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