by Kimberly King
I cried my eyes out recently, as I watched the Academy Award-nominated movie, The Marriage Story. It touches on so many parts of divorce in a truly authentic way. If you are going through a divorce... it is a MUST SEE! It will open your eyes to pain, suffering, and sometimes healing that occurs in the whole family. The love, loss, sadness, stress, regret, fear, anger and every other emotion on the spectrum- are overwhelming. Add to that lawyers who just seem skilled at inserting bad ideas that result in more drama and family strife. Eventually you will be consumed with bad advice and financial mayhem heading your way. Hopefully, you may see yourself in this movie and learn from it before you cause additional pain and emotional strife for your family. Divorce can bring out the worst in two people who loved and brought out the best in each other once. We have to remember the love to get through a divorce.
Thankfully, I was the child of a friendly divorce. My parents both worked together to cooperate and collaborate. The divorce had a minimum impact on us emotionally because we all felt very loved and cared for by both parents. There was absolutely no drama or negativity. Our parents cheered each other on, helped each other out, and never spoke a negative word about each other. In retrospect, I have NO idea how they did this with such ease. They were the inspiration for my children's book When Your Parents Divorce- a kid-to-kid guide to dealing with divorce. Below are some lessons learned during my parents' divorce and my own. These ideas are optimistic and helped our family. I genuinely hope they help you.
1. CREATE A FAMILY CONTRACT
Good news! You can do this without a lawyer. You can create a contract between you, x, and kids to include a parenting plan and rules. You can post this on the fridge or give everyone a copy on their phone. It will help you avoid fights with the kids and each other. Believe it, or not some kids try to play one parent against the other. As a result, some parents get pegged into certain roles like "the fun dad" or "the strict mom." This plan should include agreed-upon rules to encourage a consistent and cooperative structure.
FAMILY CONTRACT EXAMPLE:
We are a divorced family, but still a family with a need for stability and peace. In the spirit of cooperation, we the __________ family agree to the following guidelines and rules
Two House Rules: Bedtime at both houses will be _______
Phone calls to away parent at ________
Cell phone goes off and is on parents desk at _________
Chores at both houses to include:
Curfew at ___________
Study time at_________
Respect any individual rules at mom's or dad's house
Extreme Clause: Unless there is a true emergency, our kids will not have the power to demand changes in custody schedules, "mom come get me; dad is not letting me go out because I didn't do my chores." - NOT ALLOWED
We understand that sometimes kids and parents can get moody and grumpy. But, we are talking through problems instead of pressing alarm buttons and requesting unscheduled pickups.
Goals: We will try to stick to the custody schedule as much as possible. Mom and dad will try to cooperate and collaborate as a divorced family. Mom and dad will communicate and decision making about scheduling and plans.
We will not put out our kids in the middle by making them send text messages, call, or mediate of any situation. We will all talk with each other in a calm and respectful way. If we have a problem or are uncomfortable, we will talk about it together.
2. LEARN ABOUT PARENT ALIENATION AND TALK ABOUT IT
Kids need to know that both parents are working together to help them learn, grow, and develop into healthy adults. Defining what parent alienation is and how you will not participate in it- is important. Tell your kids that your goal is to have a peaceful divorce and operate under a policy of kindness. Let your kids know that If they happen to hear you talking about their dad or mom negatively on the phone, you want them to tell you. Let your kids know that if anything you say about the other parent is upsetting to them or makes them feel uncomfortable, you want to know. Sometimes, parents make snarky comments and roll eyes at the beginning of a divorce because they are operating as the injured party. They may be hurt by the divorce and carry feelings of anger and resentment. Often parent alienation starts in a very minor or small way. When we are aware of how it starts, we can try to address it before it causes devastation for the family. If you are aware of the negative impact parent alienation causes, you can make it a point to avoid it. For instance saying statements like;
"Sorry, we can't go out for pizza tonight because I have to pay mommy child support and alimony." or "Your dad hasn't paid me back for your medication in months."- NOT OK!
These little passing comments that you think are benign are very damaging over time. These comments and digs, weigh heavily on your children and erode healthy thoughts and feelings about themselves and the other parent.
3. AVOID PARENTIFICATION
Parentification is when a parent puts a child in a position of being an adult, or assuming a parental role. In divorce, this is often referred to as emotional parentification. Emotional parentification happens when a child must take on the role of a confidant, messenger or mediator for (or between) parents or family members.
"Can you call your dad and see if I can pick you up from school on Tuesday because it is grandma's birthday."
"Look at this text your dad just sent me; he is so rude!"
"I'm so stressed out at work!
"I heard your dad posted some pictures on Facebook about a date! Can you find out who he is dating?"
Try to avoid putting your child in the position of being the messenger. Adult topics like dating, money, work-related stressors are not for children's ears. Don't make children your emotional support or shoulder to cry on. If you need emotional help, find a divorce support group or divorce coach. Several amazing people are one click away like Danielle Bloom.
4. HIRE A FAMILY THERAPIST
It may sound crazy to go to a therapist after you are divorced. But, I would argue that this is an essential time to get busy with family therapy. An objective family therapist can help you assess your parenting challenges and avoid pitfalls. Divorce can be a devastating life change for many families, and it takes time and support to adjust. Learning how to be a single parent presents many challenges. A good therapist can help. Co-parenting through a new divorce is very difficult. To be successful at co-parenting you will need support from the experts.