Divorce and effective co-parenting

Although separation may be the best situation for parents and children, there are things parents can do to help children cope.

Michigan State University Extension has many resources for building healthy relationships. However, even with the best efforts, sometimes relationships end, like when marriage ends in divorce. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the 2011National Marriage and Divorce rate trends, over two million marriages – 3.6 per every 1,000 marriages end in divorce. In Michigan, during the same time period the divorce rate was 3.4 per 1,000. It is obvious that although the myth that half of all marriages end in divorce is not true, it is also obvious for many reasons divorce seems to be part of the American family life.

Researchers have spent years trying to figure out how divorce affects children and what parents can do to help ease a child’s transition to family life after divorce. The following are some recommendations.

  • Stay involved – when safe, it is important for a child to have contact with both custodial and non-custodial parents. Children who have both parents involved in their lives are less likely to experiment with drugs, more likely to achieve in school and have fewer behavior problems.
  • Strive for positive communication – Just because you are divorced does not mean your conflicts with your ex-spouse will improve. Avoid put downs and name calling, especially in front of your children. Use “I” messages and practice active listening to problem solve. “I feel concerned when the children are at home alone at your house for two hours after school. I would like to sit down and talk about how we might figure out a different plan for those hours.”
  • Just the facts – when you do have a conflict, try to stick with the facts and leave the emotions out of it. Don’t bring up the past; remember to stick with the problem in the moment. Take a deep breath, try to write out what the problem is, and some of your own thoughts on reasonable solutions. Remember your manners. Saying please and thank you and using a calm tone of voice makes communicating go smoother.
  • Be respectful and reliable – Show up on time when you are supposed to pick up the kids. Communicate schedule changes like work, school holidays and your own vacation days. Share changes in address, phone numbers, jobs, teachers, schools, day care, etc.

According to the University of Tennessee Extension’s program called Parenting Apart the following are things that kids of divorcing parents need to hear:

  • It’s not your fault
  • Your parents are not rejecting you
  • No matter what, you still have a family
  • Your parents still love you and always will
  • Your parents will still make sure that you are cared and provided for

When things have settled down, communicate what things will be the same and what things are going to be different. Children thrive on routines, so the more consistent you can be the better they will adjust.

Some acting out or behavior problems may be normal. However, if you are at all worried, have a conversation with your child’s doctor. There may be some support programs or family counseling to help you get through this transition as smoothly as possible. Tender topics – Part 2: Discussing separation or divorce with preschoolers is another MSU Extension article to refer to.

Read part one of this article, titled Tips for co-parenting.

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