Supporting Families – Easing the Challenges of Divorce
Lori Gunner Kolle, LCSW-C, Clinical Director and Scott Kreeger, LCSW-C, Clinical Social Worker
Going through a divorce is a time of complex change for many families. Relationships are in flux, living situations are changing, and patterns of communication often shift. Amid the new arrangements, it’s critical to prioritize managing the emotional impacts on parents and on their children.
Between the Adults
How you talk to your spouse about divorce can set the tone for the whole divorce process. Whenever possible, speak cooperatively and respectfully, almost as if talking to a business colleague. Acknowledge that you both have contributed to the erosion of the marriage, but then focus on building a healthy future for the family.
Develop your own network of people who can support you emotionally on divorce-related matters. Close friends, family members, clergy, or professionals such as therapists or collaborative divorce coaches can help you cope with this new set of challenges and emotions.
Learning to Co-parent
As parents, you both will need to redefine your relationship into a new, co-parenting situation to best meet the children’s needs. Transitioning to co-parenting can be challenging; however, a working relationship between parents is a good way to prevent adult conflicts from trickling down to the children. In a co-parenting relationship, it is recommended that each parent:
- Think first of what is best for the children when making decisions.
- Respect the co-parent’s relationship with the child. For instance, include him or her in important events in the child’s life such as a sporting event, a birthday party or a parent-teacher conference.
- Find a workable form of communication both parents agree upon – emailing, calling, or texting, for example.
- Choose your battles, and avoid fighting in front of the children.
- Explore the collaborative divorce process – a team approach to create co-parenting plans without going to court.
Between Parents and Children
For children, their parents’ divorce is typically a time of crisis. Children may feel sad, angry, confused, and conflicted about what is happening and may think they are to blame. However children are resilient enough to handle changes with help and guidance from their parents. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Communicate that both parents love them deeply and will continue to work together to raise them.
- Let them talk to you about their emotions as much as they are able, even if they cry or yell. Let them know it is OK to be upset. Children may benefit from channeling their emotions and energy into activities such as sports, music, dance, art or computers.
- Build confidence by making five times more positive than negative comments to your child. For example, “I like the way you did that…”or “I love your drawing, you are such a good artist.”
- Continue to set limits and consequences. Children need them to know you are still in charge.
- Engage a child specialist – part of the collaborative divorce team – to help clarify the needs of each child.
Your Special Needs Child
When a divorcing couple has a child with any kind of disability, an additional layer of issues arises. For a disabled child, these could include changing schools, financial planning for the child’s future needs, and support for social and emotional challenges. For the child without disabilities, the challenges may be even more pronounced though often harder to identify. Additional supports including individual or group therapy, or extra time alone with each parent can help work through emotions that might otherwise remain below the surface.
JSSA offers collaborative divorce coaching and child specialists, as well as one-one-one and group counseling to help navigate through this difficult transition.