21 Mar Advice for Divorcing Parents
A generic letter written to some divorcing parents.
Divorce has the potential a high conflict situation and I highly recommend that you try the more unusual, yet highly beneficial road of minimizing conflict and being generous, whenever possible, as you move through the necessary legal requirements. No doubt, all of you are experiencing grief because you are losing your marriage, your normal routines, your relationships are shifting, etc. etc. etc. Please don’t make this worse with added contention.
To your credit, your children are remarkable people. I hope their worth motivates your actions. Fortunately, both of you have been present in the formative years of your children’s lives, and those past experiences have laid the foundation for your future relationships. Please remember, your children will be adults longer than they are children. Please, help them get through the next several years in the best way you can. Generous arrangements on their behalf now will pay off in BIG dividends later. Also, your example is paramount. They will be watching you to learn how to treat others, and how to deal with differences of opinion.
I understand you sought me out partially because my religious beliefs are similar to yours. Perhaps it will help you to remember this quote from Pres. Hinckley. “Never forget that these little ones are the sons and daughters of God and that yours is a custodial relationship to them, that He was a parent before you were parents and that He has not relinquished His parental rights or interest in these His little ones. Now, love them, take care of them. Fathers, control your tempers, now and in all the years to come. Mothers, control your voices; keep them down. Rear your children in love, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Take care of your little ones. Welcome them into your homes, and nurture and love them with all of your hearts” (“Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, July 1997, 73).
It is your responsibility to create safety for them, during your divorce. Please think about including sanctions in your divorce decree, so that future therapy for your children can stay out of legal entanglements. This will make it safer for children to talk freely in therapy.
I’ve listed three main points and other recommendations, based on my opinions and experience. This is suggestive, not definitive. My hope is that these ideas can save you and your children some unwarranted distress and expenses.
1 – Keep your children out of your disagreements, this information is handled best between parents and their attorneys. Your differences aren’t bad, they just separate you.
2 – Support your children in their developmental tasks,
3 – Refrain from bad-mouthing or defaming, anyone.
In addition, please be mindful to:
- Be cordial, especially publicly
- Attend the class for divorcing parents soon, and apply what you learn (I taught that class years ago)
- You may want to consider waiting until your divorce is final to put your children in a therapeutic environment, for their enrichment.
- Provide for your children, to the best of your ability
- Honor appropriate personal boundaries and resolve necessary issues efficiently, so you can move on to a new routine as soon as possible
- Put their safety first. If there is a legitimate/verifiable report of abuse, safety may be most easily achieved through sole custody with the non-abusive spouse. (Remember- God sees both of you as custodians, without regard to the legal arrangement.) Sometimes it’s helpful to revisit custody issues, after a divorce has been finalized, because children’s developmental needs change. (Remember, you both already have a foundational relationship with your children.) False charges of abuse often backfire, causing more problems for the accuser.
- Additionally – relationships are best based on loving connections, not court orders. Even smaller amounts of quality time can maintain significant relationships. The woman in King Solomon’s court understood the importance of not “chopping up” a child. This applies figuratively, as well as literally.
- Consider their preferences, but don’t ask them to make decisions, that’s too much pressure for them. No doubt, they love each of you. (When the two of you can come to agreement on custody issues, its preferable to a custody evaluation process. Nobody loves them like you do.)
- Offer loving options. Refrain from manipulation, posturing, or controlling behaviors.
- Treat them as people, not objects (People are treated as objects when it is as though they are irrelevant, or the means to an end (i.e. a way of retaliating against a former spouse), or obstacles (“If it wasn’t for you….”). Often children of divorce may be treated as property, which is also unfavorable.)
- Brainstorm at least 3 solutions to any one issue, to avoid power struggles
- Teach them to recognize and embrace truth as they find it. They need spiritual strength.
- Give yourself and your children at least 3 years before you introduce another potential spouse. Use those years to re-work a relationship between yourselves, with your new boundaries in place.
I hope this is helpful to you and your children.
P.S. You may find it helpful to read a long-term follow-up study on families of divorce. Judith Wallerstein wrote a book after interviewing divorced family members over a 25-year period of time. A published paper on the book is available here.