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Category: Resources & Tips

Communication Between Parents During and After the Divorce

Goals:

  • Provide a healthy, secure environment for children to help them adjust to changes in their lives before, during and after the divorce.
  • Help parents keep the welfare of their children as a top priority during and after a divorce.
  • Protect children from exposure to stressful, negative emotional scenes.

The two to three months after the separation are the period when the couple’s relationship moves to a co-parenting one. The goal is to use communication and cooperation that keeps the children in a conflict-free zone where they are not exposed to strife or anger between parents. The following guidelines are intended to help with this transition.

Face-to-face, telephone and voice mail communications

  • Try to speak to the other parent with the same respect you show to a business colleague whose business you want to keep, even when there has been a severe disagreement.
  • Set firm boundaries around communications about the children: when you are talking about them, do not allow the conversation to go into other subjects, especially emotionally-charged subjects where you and the other parent disagree.
  • Communicate about plans for the present and the immediate future of the children.
  • Avoid bringing up the past in a way that is provocative.
  • Make only promises and commitments you plan to keep.
  • Do not criticize the other person or allow your children to overhear others do so, even when you are provoked.
  • If the discussion gets heated, suggest continuing it later; calmly end the conversation.
  • Try to respect the other person’s schedule at work and with the children and postpone discussions to times when his or her attention is not divided.
  • Stick to the subject at hand. For telephone and voice-mail, it helps to write down what you plan to say, keep the notes in front of you and stick to the notes.

E-mail and Texts

  • Unlike telephone calls, e-mails and texts have certain benefits: you cannot hear the tone of the other person’s voice; you can postpone responding until you feel ready to communicate in a calm, reasonable way and you both have a record of what was said.
  • Do not expect the other parent to respond on a same-day basis unless a decision about the children cannot be postponed until the following day.
  • When communicating about children, don’t include other subjects in the same e-mail.
  • If you are upset with your ex-spouse and your feelings might spill over in the e-mail or text, wait until you have calmed down, write what you want to say, then click Save. Later, re-read and edit the document before you send it.
  • Do not use e-mails or texts to your ex-spouse as documents that you intend to use in litigation.
  • Do not forward your ex-spouse’s emails and texts about the children to others without his/her knowledge.

 

Tips on Helping Toddlers Cope with Divorce

For very young children of one to two years of age, their room, their home, their toys, their yard ARE their world. Depending on a child’s history and temperament, going to new places and doing new things at a time of parental separation can stir up feelings of anxiety and insecurity for them. Helping toddlers feel secure and at ease in new places where their other parent is not present can promote their adaptation to the changes and boost their self-esteem. Some key guidelines for the transition are pacing the changes, providing comfort as needed, providing sameness in objects and routines and access to the other parent.

What helps?

  • Calmness and attention from the parent or other adults  at each home.
  • Pacing the changes: introduce changes in location and routine slowly, one at a time. Allow them to explore a new place in their own way at their own speed. Let them go away from their first home to the new other home for short periods of several hours and gradually lengthen the time in the other new home as they become more comfortable.
  • Provide understanding and physical comfort and affection when they are having difficulty: hugs, holding hands, etc.
  • Offer snacks and their favorite foods.
  • When they are away from home, keep their basic routine much the same as when they are at home; this is especially true for mealtimes, nap and bedtimes.
  • Have pictures of the other parent available. If they use the telephone, let them to talk to the other parent when they want to, especially in the beginning of the separation. Video telephone access to the other parent can also help.
  • Reduce the number of possessions they must carry with them by duplicating or redistributing things like toys, clothes, supplies, school books; the ideal is to get to the point where there is no “suitcase”.
  • Children need favorite toys, music and videos with them at each house. They may want a certain toy to stay at Mom’s or Dad’s house. Honor their wishes whenever possible, even if a specific toy was given to them by the other parent.
  • Each child needs a bed and a space of their own for their possessions. Where circumstances do not allow for children to have a room of their own, they need to have a designated place in a closet and a bureau or cabinet for their things.
  • If possible, match as closely as possible the bed they sleep in and other objects that touch them intimately. For example, it is best if both parents use the same kind of diapers or sippy cups.
  • If the family has a pet and the child is has a good attachment to that pet, consider having the pet go back and forth to the two houses with the child. This can reduce stress for children.
  • Children’s self-management. While it is expected for some rules to be different at each parent’s home, certain expectations for young children should be the same at both houses. These rules are particularly important when children are learning to master things like eating, sleeping and toileting. For example, if a child has been toilet trained for daytime, but wears diapers at night, it is important that these routines and expectations be the same at both houses.

Tips for Helping Young Children Cope with Things They Do Not Like and They Cannot Control

  • Listen–hear them out without interrupting.
  • Tell them their feelings make sense and empathize with their feelings.
  • Sometimes it helps to explain to them who did decide this, e.g. the dentist (brushing teeth, braces), the people who make laws (kids must go to school every day), the judge (custody arrangements).
  • Sometimes it helps to mention (but not repeat too often) that parents also have to do things they do not want to do: like brushing teeth, going to work when the boss says they must be there, etc. Do not say that you do not like parts of the parenting agreement or school rules or blame their other parent.
  • After listening, validating, empathizing and explaining who decided, then try to distract them with something they enjoy: play a game with them, read a story, enjoy a favorite snack.
  • Help them identify something enjoyable they can do when they are in the situation they do not like: sit next to another child they like in the school cafeteria, play with a certain game or toy that is at their other parent’s home, etc.

These tips should be used consistently and tailored to each individual child’s needs. Over a long period of time, with regular use, children can internalize these approaches and use them with less prompting.

Tips on How to Handle the Move and the Immediate Weeks After the Move

It helps children to know what to expect…

  • Once it has been decided that one parent is moving out of the family home, tell the children about this a few days to a week before moving day. Tell them that this parent will be moving and where that parent is going to live.
  • The day of the move, remind the kids that their parent is moving that day. Let them know if there are things (eg furniture, pictures, etc.) that will be going to the other house.
  • It is best if the parent moves his or her belongings while the kids are out of the house.
  • The parent who is moving should tell the children he/she will be gone to his/her new home when they return, that he/she will be fine and when he/she is coming to see them. Generally, this time together should be no more than a few days after the move for older kids and as soon as possible for younger children and children who are having a particularly difficult time coping with the divorce.
  • It is not usually a good idea for children to help a parent find a new home or to help them move out.

When children stay with the parent who moved out…

  • Leaving one parent’s home to go with the other parent can be very difficult and stressful for children. Parents can help children by doing everything possible to make going back and forth between houses as calm, predictable and low-stress as possible.
  • Do not try to talk to your ex-spouse about anything else when you drop them off or pick them up; just focus your attention on the children; be courteous and matter-of-fact to the other parent.
  • Do not ask children to carry messages or things to the other parent (such as mail, legal documents).
  • When they leave, tell them good bye and tell them you hope they have a good time–the same way you would if they were going to spend time with a grandparent, aunt or uncle; when they return, ask if they had a good time and listen to them in the same way as if they had been with a relative.
  • Do not pressure them to talk about the visit if they do not want to.
  • Reduce the number of possessions they must carry with them by duplicating or redistributing things like toys, clothes, supplies, school books; the ideal is to get to the point where there is no “suitcase.”
  • Each child needs a bed and a space of their own for their possessions. Where circumstances do not allow for the child to have a room of their own, they need to have a designated place in a closet and bureau for their things.
  • If possible, for babies and toddlers, duplicate as closely as possible the bed they sleep in and other objects that touch them intimately. For example, it is best if both parents use the same kind of diapers or sippy cups.

Favorite possessions: Children need favorite toys, music and videos with them at each house. They may ask if a certain toy can stay at Mom’s or Dad’s house. Honor their wishes whenever possible, even if a specific toy was given to them by the other parent. These are the children’s toys and having some control over where these things are will help them adjust to having two homes.

Children’s self-management: While it is to be expected that some rules may be different at each parent’s home, certain expectations for young children should be the same at both houses. These rules are particularly important when children are learning to master things like eating, sleeping and toileting. For example, if a child has been toilet trained for daytime, but wears diapers at night, it important that these routines and expectations be the same at both houses.

Communication with the other parent: In the early weeks after the separation, some young children may feel comforted by talking to their other parent on the telephone and may ask to call them. They should be allowed this kind of access for brief phone calls, even several times a day. As they become more accustomed to the new routine, the frequency of calls typically decreases, but this may take weeks or months. When your child calls you from the other parent’s house, listen and let them talk about what is on their minds, tell them you are fine. Do not prolong the conversation, just tell them to have a good time and you will see them later.

Tips on Telling Your Children about Your Separation or Divorce

When facing the idea of telling their children about their impending divorce, most parents feel confused, anxious and filled with dread. It is difficult enough for adults to face the reality of a divorce and manage their own feelings. Telling their children and facing their children’s feelings can seem like a worst fear come true. Yet, what parents say and do at this painful time can have a major impact on how the divorce affects their children’s development. The following guidelines are intended to help parents plan what to say and do at that meeting. These guidelines should be adapted to the individual needs of each child and family. Most parents find it helps to write out and practice what they are going to say.

  • Tell the children when the decision is final and before they will begin to see changes in their daily life, such as who sleeps where, one parent moving out, etc.
  • It is generally best for both parents to tell all the children
    • at the same time
    • at a quiet time undisturbed by TV, telephone or video games
    • at a time when neither parent is going away for a few days
  • Talk slowly and clearly.
  • Explain that you are going to get a divorce. If the children are too young to know what a divorce is, then explain that this means: you will not be married any more, you will live in different houses; explain that you will still be their parents.
  • Explain that when you got married, you both wanted to be married forever and you tried to do that. When problems came, you tried to fix the problems and you are very sad you could not fix them. Speak in simple terms. Wait to see if they have questions before you go on.
  • Tell them you love them and you will continue to take care of them as their parents even though you will live in different homes.
  • Be sure to tell the children that it is okay to show you how they feel and to ask questions. Stop to listen at any time they have a question or comment or want to show how they feel.
  • Kids usually need to know something about why the divorce is happening so that they can make sense out of it and so that they will not blame themselves for the divorce.  It is advisable to tell them what is true, but to provide information that is  appropriate to their age and explained in very simple terms.
  • Do not blame each other, disparage each other or disrespect each other in front of the children.
  • Tell them that divorce is an adult decision and there is nothing they can do to change it.
  • Tell them you do not want them to take sides about the divorce. You want them to love both of you the same as they always have.

After you have told them about the divorce, explain about the changes you know will happen and when these will happen, such as who will live where.

  • Explain what will not change, such as “you will go to the same school in the same grade and you will still be on the soccer team.” Or, “the plans for you to go to ___________College next year will stay the same.”
  • Listen to their questions and answer them as well as you can. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you haven’t figured that part out yet, but you will tell them when you have. Then do so.
  • Ask what questions they have.
  • If they act in a way that suggests they do not want to talk about this anymore, tell them you understand that this is hard to hear and you are ready to talk later when they have questions or want to talk.
  • If the plans for spending time at each parent’s home have been finalized, tell them what those plans are. In the case of younger children, it helps to use a calendar with days at Mom’s house and Dad’s house marked clearly in different colors.
  • Tell them that both of you will be glad to sit down with them again in a few days to talk over any questions or concerns they may have.

In the next few days and weeks, do not be surprised if your children:

  • Do not want to talk about it.
  • Ask the same questions over and over.
  • Ask the “tough questions” in the car.
  • Tell you they do not want you to do this.
  • Get very angry/upset with you about this and/or other things.
  • Show signs of distress like sleep problems, tearfulness, emotional neediness, behavior problems, sadness, anger, etc.
  • It usually helps children at this time if you provide them with understanding, stability, information, and comfort.

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