Divorce can be a devastating event for an entire family. Yes there is the financial cost of a divorce, but there is also the impact that a divorce has on a family especially the children. Many children that I have worked with feel like their entire world has been turned up side down. Also for children they don’t feel the divorce has ended after it is finalized in court.
For many children the divorce is just beginning. They now have to adjust to their parents living in separate houses, visitation schedules, often parents continue to fight even though the divorce is final and many children feel they need to choose a side. They feel a pull by their parents and extended family to take a stand as who was right and wrong in the divorce.
Another thing is children have to learn how to cope with is seeing their parents with someone else. Often parents start dating soon after a divorce and a child or teenager have to adjust to seeing Dad or Mom dating someone else. They are not use to thinking about their parents having intimate relationships. This concept is very often something very difficult for teenagers to adjust to.
As a result of all of these changes, many teenagers may act out. They may start getting into trouble at school or their grades may significantly drop. They may start arguing with their parents and they may refuse to cooperate with the visitation schedule. Some of the teenagers I have worked with also start to drink, smoke marijuana or use other drugs so they don’t have to think about the divorce. Also some teens may start to be sexually active and make it obvious to their parents so Mom and Dad have to deal with the same strange thoughts and feelings they have to deal with when their parents date.
Yes divorce is not easy and no matter how you approach it, a divorce is upsetting to everyone. However, how Mom and Dad handle the divorce process and the adjustment period after a divorce can make a major impact on how their children and teenagers are affected.
To begin with, during the divorce and after the divorce, parents should not discuss any facts pertaining to the divorce settlement with their children. Also neither parent should be saying negative things about the other parent to the children. You may be divorcing each other, but that is still your child’s Mom or Dad. Furthermore, both parents need to speak to their family and make sure grandparents understand not to put down the other parent or tell the kids details about the divorce.
If you need to talk to your children about the divorce, do so in an age appropriate manner and only tell them what they need to know. For example, if the house needs to be sold obviously the children need to be told. If children are asking questions about things that are inappropriate such as about the finances, let the children know that is an issue just between Mom and Dad. Also reassure them that no matter what happens that Mom and Dad will make sure they are taken care of and you understand the divorce is scary but Mom will still be their Mom and Dad will still be their Dad. Let them know both of you will take care of them and they don’t need to worry.
Obviously after the divorce is an adjustment period and learning period for everyone. This period can be easier if you work together as a team and co-parent. Trying to have similar rules at both houses help. Also backing up each other helps. So if a child is talking disrespectfully about Mom or Dad, the other parent lets their child know that will not be tolerate that they are still their Mom or Dad and they need to respect them.
If they are having issues at school such as poor grades or cutting school again if you work together as a co-parent team, you can help the teen accept the divorce and help resolve the school issue.
If you suspect your teen is drinking, smoking or using other drugs, again the most effective is if you function together as a co-parent team. By doing so you reinforce that you have not stopped being their parents, you have just stopped being married to each other. Also by acting together as a team you have a better chance of your teenager cooperating with treatment. If they can see that the two of you still disagree and argue about most issues, they will use this to their advantage. They will try to play the two of you against each other. And they will play the two of you against each other anytime they want something. The end result is the two of you spend more time arguing than you need to, probably more money on attorney bills and your children do not get the structure from the two of you that they need.
Now, as for the issue of you dating. You are both adults, no longer married so you have a right to see someone if you want. If you have children, just use common sense when you decide to date. The children will be spending time with Mom or Dad during their visitation time. Therefore, when you don’t have the kids that is the perfect time to go out with someone. I would suggest not mentioning to your children or introducing your children to anyone you are seeing until you are sure this is a serious relationship. If you introduce your children to someone you have only been seeing for two weeks and then you end the relationship two weeks later it feels strange and awkward to your children. Remember, most children don’t think or don’t want to think about the fact that their parents have sex.
This brings up the issue of having someone spending the night or spending the night at someone else’s house. As I stated above, the children will be spending time with the other parent during visitation. Therefore, when you do not have the children it is fine to have an overnight guest. Besides the fact children don’t want to know anything about their parents having sex, if you have a teenager, you could be creating a problem. If you are having guests spend the night, what do you do when your 16 year old son announces that his girlfriend is spending the night? You say no, but he argues you do it. Yes you are an adult and its different, but there is no need to take that risk. Also as that parent it is your responsibility to be the role model.
Basically, while a divorce is difficult on everyone and there is an adjustment period after, if you and your ex-spouse treat each other with respect and work together as a parenting team, you can minimize the stress and anxiety on your children. Remember, the children had no involvement in you deciding to divorce or what happened during the divorce or the decisions that were made. Therefore, as their parents it is your responsibility to help your children adjust to the divorce.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience working with teenagers and working with high conflict divorces. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.