A child may be either an unintended beneficiary or victim of a divorce or separation. Both are possible. Although, there are a number of issues that come up when parents are trying to raise an emotionally healthy child during a divorce, here are three (possibly four) ways parents can help their child come through the divorce as a beneficiary.
First, be consistent.
Consistency is essential for a child before, during, and after the divorce. A child needs consistency with a schedule, discipline, and rules. Unfortunately, divorce undermines a child's sense of security and stability. Consistency helps a child maintain a sense of security and stability. Parents need to establish (or reestablish) consistent schedules, discipline, and rules as soon as possible – even though consistency needs to be established between two households. Parents should work closely together to find consistent bedtime routines, dinner routines, and household rules.
It helps the child and parents should develop a complete a parenting plan as soon as possible and be consistent with the parenting schedule. In addition, parents should be consistent with parenting time schedules – so the child knows when they will be at one parent's house or the other's house. A child should not have to guess where they will be spending the night.
Second, respect each other's time with the child.
The parents should respect the other parent's parenting time with the child. Parents sometimes make plans or schedule events that occur during the other parent's parenting time without consulting with and getting the other parent's permission. This can cause significant conflict between the parents and undermine the child. This does not mean that parents can only schedule events during their parenting time; parents should consult with each other and respect the other person's parenting time and decisions.
Third, do not use children as messengers.
As a child transitions between homes, it may seem easy for parents to use the child as a messenger between the two households – especially during periods of anger and frustration with the other parent. However, the child may feel that they may shoulder the burden of the relationship between the parents – or, at least, feel responsible if and when they forget. Parents should find a way to talk about the child's needs without involving the child. There are so many different ways clients can communicate with each other these days, such as texting, email, or slack. Any of these ways are better than using the child as a messenger.
Clients should also be careful not to antagonize the other parent. In difficult situations, Parents should just keep communications about the facts about the child. Parents should consider looking at the book BIFF for CoParent Communication: Your Guide to Difficult Texts, Emails, and Social Media Posts, by Bill Eddy about responding in high-conflict co-parenting situations. Another option is to rely on parent communication software, such as Our Family Wizard, Custody X Change, or Coparently.
Fourth (for the price of three), rely on a team to support the children.
The above three tips are not the only way that parents can help their child remain emotionally healthy. First, much like mediation and the collaborative divorce process, the parents are critical parts of the team and need to work closely together to help their children have a healthy and safe childhood. Each child and situation is different and unique. Parents should identify and use their team to help ensure that the children stay emotionally healthy. In addition, parents should pay attention to whether they need to rely on other professionals to help their children – teachers, therapists, or child specialists. Parents need to pay attention to the needs of their children and touch base with specialists when needed.
Divorce can be difficult for children. There are many ways that parents can help a child get through a divorce in an emotionally healthy way. Here are three (or four) ways that parents can support their child through a divorce. First, parents need to do what they can to work together to be consistent with their children. Second, parents can respect each other's time with the children, and third parents ensure that the children do not perceive themselves as carrying the burden of the parent's relationship. Finally, parents should use their team to support the children's emotional health.