by Diane Neumann
Parents want to divorce in a way that is best for their children.
There are an incredible number of studies concerning the effects of divorce on children, which postulate reasons for the children’s dysfunction.
I have been a divorce mediator for 30 years and wanted to compare my first-hand experience working with divorcing parents to the hundreds of studies to find out what really works. Many divorcing couples want different schedules for their children, and each has read studies which support his or her positions.
In my practice, the overwhelming number of parents who report that their children are doing well give two consistent factors:
- The children did not obtain conflict between their parents; regardless of whether it concerns parenting issues or finances. Children are very sentitive to arguments between their parents, whether parents live together or are divorced.
- The children did not have a parent who “bad-mouthed” the other parent. Children have two parents and they need to believe that each of them is OK for them to feel OK. Frequently, I hear that children become extremely upset, act out, get lower grades, hav problems in school, or create problems at home when their parents react negatively towards one another and argue.
Mediation clients are parents who want what is best for their child. They made a conscious decision not to argue in front of their children. Despite the parents’ differences, they were able to control when and how they expressed these differences to the other parent. What I hadn’t realized was that so many parents were careful not to react negatively to the other parent.
Children who had the most successful adjustment to divorce had parents who were good actors regardless of their true feelings. Dad and mom were able to set aside their own feelings and put on a neutral face. The the best of cases, parents were able to express a caring interest for other parents – one that was not tied to getting their ex-spose back, or tied to feeling glad upon hearing that the ex was having a hard time.
For many people, “being honest with one’s children” is an important value, yet this is often not best for the child. Children do not need to know their parents’ personal relationship. Adults and children are at very different life stages; children are not adults and are therefore not capable of understanding the nuances of an adult relationship.
In summary, good parenting during and after divorce may not be easy. Parents must work hard and monitor their behavior – no matter their feelings. I promise you that it will be worth it. Your kids will thrive, and grow up to love and appreciate the parents who worked so well together, and who were the best parents.