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Archive for Monday, September 17, 2012

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Double Take: Ease transition for kids during divorce

September 17, 2012

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On the air

Join Dr. Wes and attorney Ron Nelson at 11 a.m. Tuesday for Up to Date with Steve Kraske. They’ll be talking about how to have a kid-friendly divorce and taking calls from listeners.

Dr. Wes: In my business, high-conflict divorce comes along all too frequently, damaging everyone in its path.

In fact, my first rule for dating singles is this: Don’t marry anyone you don’t want to be divorced from. In other words, watch how your beloved treats the people he or she dislikes, and consider how things might go if you become one of them.

This week, we’ve compiled a list of our best rules for making things as positive as possible for kids facing divorce. I frequently tweet my other 35 rules, so feel join me at Twitter.com/wescrenshawphd or read our books to get them all.

  • Create order. Kids need to know that divorcing parents have everything under control. The more parents sound like they’ve actually thought all this through, the more easily kids adjust.
  • Agree on what you will and won’t share outside of joint discussions with the kids.
  • Nothing is worse for kids than hearing how bad one parent is, or how indifferent the other. And just to be clear, kids don’t care whose fault the divorce was, so keep the blame game to yourself.
  • It’s tempting to solicit input on parenting time from teens or even preteens. Don’t. That delicate task is better left to a therapist.
  • If you are considering moving more than 25 miles after a divorce, reconsider. Distance parenting creates complications for everyone and inhibits the kind of frequent parental contact kids need.
  • Parents who do move away must set up visitations that respect’s their children’s time and activities.
  • Be a part of your child’s world rather than simply demanding they join yours. That’s what the rest of us do. Divorce does not change that.
  • Don’t move on too easily or too quickly. Kids, particularly teens, need to see parents dealing with their own grief and loss in order to deal with theirs. Jumping into a new relationship rarely works out, and it usually creates a much harder road for teens.
  • Teenagers of divorce feel better spending time at a nonresidential parent’s house if they have friends nearby. Alternatively, invite a couple of friends along for the visit.
  • Most importantly, ACT NORMAL. To the extent possible, do what the nondivorced families do. Try to let the divorce fade into the background and typical family life move to the forefront.

Katie: A family, whether together or divorced, forms a triangle, the strongest of all geometric shapes: Parent A is the first point, Parent B is the second and the children are the third. When parents separate, the bonds connecting each can be stretched to their limits — and if one bond breaks, the entire structure may collapse. After all, a three-legged stool can’t stand on only two.

No matter how bitter the conflict, it’s important that divorcing parents keep the following tips in mind to keep their own triangle intact:

  • Children aren’t therapists. If you need to unload, talk to a professional, a close friend, or, in a pinch, your cat — provided your children aren’t within earshot.
  • Limit drastic changes. Adjusting to divorce is a shell-shocker in itself. To ease the transition, keep other aspects of your children’s lives, such as school, activities and relationships with extended family, as consistent as possible.
  • Accept the visitation you have with your children. The parenting time may seem too short, but what you do with that time is more important than the number of hours it takes up. Take every chance to strengthen your bonds with your kids while still allowing them to spend time with their own age group.
  • Don’t send a messenger. Only miscommunication and discomfort result when children are used as middlemen between divorced parents. Maintain direct contact with phone calls and face-to-face chats, and leave the kids out of the loop.
  • Never talk law at dinner. Children don’t want to think of themselves as property in a court case. Post-divorce finances can be stressful, but everyone will be happier if legal conflicts remain ink on paper.
  • Be accommodating. Nobody is above needing a little help every once in a while. Making an effort to work around your ex-partner’s work schedule or car trouble shows your children that although the family triangle is a different size and shape, it is not broken.

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