Protecting Children’s Emotions and Perceptions in Divorce and/or Custody Cases
In twelve years of practicing family law, I have never seen a divorce and/or custody case where the children are fully protected throughout the litigation process. It is the saddest part of my practice, a part out of my control - and it only seems to be getting worse.
Your children have but one childhood. It is your job as a parent to fiercely protect what should be a magical and carefree time in their life. Magic is a perk of childhood that is hard, if not impossible, to recapture at any other time in their lives. Do not expose them to any unnecessary truths. Their life should consist of Santa Claus, tooth fairies and the belief that anything is possible. Once they are unnecessarily exposed – by either party – to the hard realities of a divorce (or to any part of the legal process), the damage is done. One cannot unring that bell. If the parents did not grow up when they married – it is time they did so during the divorce.
This focus on the children is in no way meant to minimize the very real trauma of parents in divorce proceedings. But your children are not your friends, nor are they your counselors. Go elsewhere for any help and consolation you need making it through. As all parents well know, children don’t miss anything, and like sponges, absorb everything. Around the kids, subdue any animosity you may feel towards your spouse or ex and just fake it. It is a gift of kindness that you will give to your kids. Remember too, that they will never forget the manner in which each of the parties conducted themselves throughout the process. Bad behavior, by either or both parents, will either be emulated, resented, or both.
No matter their age or maturity level, the family transition (or rather – disruption) will confuse and upset them. Parental separation can fundamentally and permanently shift a child’s world view. Parents must put their own emotions aside and take careful, mature steps to ensure that their children are able to cope with changes the divorce brings. It is crucial to the child’s emotional well being. To that end, I have compiled a list of crucial suggestions compiled from various child psychiatrists. They are not quite as eloquent as this writer – but they are to be given great deference.
But first, take a look at this video. If you do not need heed the spirit of the collective wisdom below, it is highly likely that as you watch – you will looking into your future. It is not pretty.
- Encourage open communication from your children. Although the complete scope of the process might immediately escape children, it’s important that you take time to allow a child to express his or her feelings about the event. This is a way in which you can both come to understand outside viewpoints, as well as providing you with an opportunity to reach and explain the situation in a manner that resonates with the child. If you have multiple children, it’s important to speak to them both individually and collectively, as each child is likely to have a different, personal response to the events unfolding, depending on their age and personality.
- Ensure that all children have a stable social safety net throughout the process. Since the fundamental role of the family is to provide a safe setting in which children can learn and grow, it’s important that one continue to provide this level of support even during parental separation. Ensure that children are in a safe environment and remain outside any legal or argumentative environments that might surround the divorce; if you understand with your spouse around children, remain friendly and amicable, independent of your internal feelings. Always reach out to your broader, extended social network so that children feel comfortable – allow them to spend time with friends, relatives and counselors so that they have feelings of stability in spite of the changes around them.
- Maintain continuity in your own personal life so that you can remain a strong parent. In order to help children cope with a divorce, it’s important that one ensure stability in all facets of life, from work to friendships. By maintaining an equilibrium in your life, you can ensure that you’ll bring a balanced approach to keeping your life in order so that you can remain strong for your children. It may be beneficial to spend time with a counselor so that you can work through any anxiety or feelings that you have, in order to ensure a proper outlet for those emotions; while it’s okay to express yourself around children, one should also ensure that emotions are kept in check and expressed in a structured fashion so children feel comfortable. In order to help children remain strong during a divorce, each parent has to be strong independently.
- Keep legal challenges outside of the child’s daily life. Although court proceedings are a core part of any divorce, children should not have to grasp the details of the legal fight. I nstead, keep the legal details separate from your relationship with your children. When working out a legal settlement, always keep the best interests of your children in mind, as those considerations should trump any financial or situational disputes that might arise in the proceedings. Even during the direct divorce proceedings, ensure that you have enough time to devote to nurturing and taking care of your children. Also, take care of yourself, physically and emotionally, so that you have the energy and ability to parent the children.
- Allow children an expressive outlet to ensure their lives are well-balanced. While no divorce is fun for children, it’s important to ensure that children continue to have elements of joy in their life, from celebrating parties with friends to enjoying time off from school on the weekends. Take time away from the bustle of daily life to take your children to a park or to a nice dinner out with relatives so that they can continue to find enjoyment in life, in spite of the larger situation. (Credit to the SC Family Law Blog.)