Dear Ann: My parents were divorced when I was very young. They behaved wonderfully well, in spite of their differences. I have seen children of divorce in less civil circumstances and realize how fortunate I was. I have some suggestions for divorced parents, based on my parents' model of correct behavior, and I hope you will print them. College Student in Champaign, Ill.
Dear Student: You have written an extremely valuable letter, and I want to thank you on behalf of all the people you've helped. Here are your suggestions:
1. Never discuss child support with your children. It should not be their concern, regardless of who is right or wrong.
2. Remember that children can hear you when you talk on the phone and you think they aren't listening. Do not discuss anything that makes your ex look bad. Do not ever tell your child negative things about your ex, or give the impression that your ex is a bad person. Let your child come to his or her own conclusions.
3. Work together. If the child needs or requests something, discuss it openly as a family.
4. If the custodial parent has established certain rules in the house, the noncustodial parent should have the same rules. This is especially important for young children who become confused when their parents disagree about what time to go to bed or when to do homework.
5. If there is a special occasion for the noncustodial parent, let the child visit, even if it is not the court-ordered visitation day. It is hurtful to a child if he or she isn't allowed to go to Dad's on Christmas because that's not when he's "supposed" to see him. Be flexible.
6. Both parents should meet the child's friends, and attend school and sports activities, as well as parent-teacher conferences. It makes the child feel as if both parents are actively involved. Whenever possible, attend functions together. It means more than you think when they see you at graduation or awards ceremonies.
7. If a major disciplinary problem arises, such as smoking or drugs, both parents should be involved.
8. Always discuss an upcoming marriage with your child. This is a big change, and it will have a great impact on his or her life. If stepparents enter the picture, don't expect your child to love them immediately or call them "Mom" or "Dad." This will take time and patience.
9. If the child needs a ride to a friend's house, to school or to the doctor, don't be afraid to call your ex for assistance. And the ex-spouse should do whatever possible to accommodate the request. The child will then see that both parents love him or her enough to help one another out.
10. One parent should not move halfway across the country. It makes the child wonder why one parent doesn't care as much as the other, even if it is not true.
11. Both parents should remain in regular contact to update each other on simple things like school reports and the child's current interests.
12. Both parents need to tell their children they are loved. Children often blame themselves for the divorce. They need to hear directly from you that it is not their fault and that your love is unconditional.
Gem of the Day (Credit the Hon. W. Richard Walton Sr.): 47.2 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. Including this one.