Coping with Change
Divorce brings change to the family, including not only separation, but relocation, as well. Children of divorce suffer guilt and insecurity, as well as feelings of loss, and fear of abandonment. As a parent, you can be sensitive to what your child is experiencing and take steps to provide additional security for your child and to let your child feel more secure and loved.
If you are the primary custodian of your child, realize that believing he has “lost” his other parent, your child may fear he is losing you, too. Be diligent to keep your word. Do what you can to minimize the changes for your child.
Try not to change everything; keep the school or day care provider the same, if possible. Maintain as much familiarity for the child as you can. Let your child know where you are and how you can be reached by telephone, beeper or cell phone. Allow young children a night light in the bedroom or hallway. Keep pictures of the other parent in your child’s room. Allow your child to telephone the other parent. You may even arrange with the other parent in advance for the telephone calls to insure their availability. Encourage your child to pray for the other parent. Provide stamped envelopes addressed to the other parent, so that your child can write him or her. A younger child can dictate the letter while you write. Teens can be given stamps, and stationery. If appropriate email addresses or internet instant messaging or text messaging can be provided to encourage contact between your child and the other parent. Be sure to tell your child in what positive ways he reminds you of the other parent.
Do what you can to make them go smoothly and pleasantly. Have the child ready for visits in a timely fashion. Be sure that your child has the appropriate clothes and equipment for the visit. Do not use your child to communicate with the other parent. Do not use pick up or drop off time as an opportunity to attack or argue with the other parent. Do not pump your child for information about the other parent, or expect him or her to spy for you. Try to maintain consistency in visitations. Do not change visitation plans capriciously. Try to be understanding and flexible when it is necessary to change plans. In your relations with the other parent, follow the “Golden Rule.”
Your Child’s Self Esteem
Focus on positive reinforcement. Give sincere compliments. Spend time with your child, doing things together and let your child choose the activities. Ask for, listen to and consider your child’s input in family decisions. Do not be critical of the other parent. Don’t say bad things about the other parent in front of your child. Delegate responsibility to your child around the house, so that he or she can contribute and feel competent. Let your child hear you brag to others about him or her. Do not call your child names, such as stupid, dumb, lazy, clumsy or crazy. Demonstrate your love in as many ways as you can. Give hugs and kisses. Tell your child you love him or her.
Take steps to provide consistency and stability. Make, communicate and enforce reasonable rules within the family. Establish a reasonable daily schedule so that your child knows what he or she is supposed to be doing and when. Be sure to build in some free time and be flexible. Be consistent with your child. Do not laugh at a behavior one day and scream about it the next. If you engage in religious practices, include your child. If you attend religious services, take your child to services with you. Whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent, you can teach your child about God’s unconditional love and spend time praying with them. You can let them hear you praying for them, as well.
Find a church-based divorce recovery program or other divorce recovery program with components for adults and children. Go to a parenting or co-parentiing seminar for divorced parents. Read some good books on divorce and children. Look for some books about separation and divorce which are age appropriate that you can read to your child or which your child can read for himself/herself. Your child needs a neutral person he/she trusts and to whom the child can talk about what he/she is feeling. Your child may not be comfortable speaking to someone within the family because of conflicting loyalties. For example, speaking to you or someone on your side of the family may make the youngster feel disloyal to the other parent. Be sure your child has someone neutral to talk to, like a guidance counselor, teacher, Sunday school teacher, youth pastor or youth leader. Look into obtaining a mentor for your child like Big Brother/Sister program.
If you are the primary custodian, you shoulder the burden of maintaining a positive attitude for your child. Studies show that the attitude of the custodial parent makes a difference; if the parent had a positive attitude, so did the child. Children who are free to love and to contact the other parent have a more enjoyable childhood experience. If you are not able to spend a lot of time with your child due to custody and visitation arrangements or your work schedule, remember that the quality of time spent is more important than the quantity of time spent with a child. That means that when you have your child be sure that you are not distracted. Focus on your child and on identifying and meeting his/her needs.
(c) 2009 by Virginia Perry. This article may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided the following information is included: “This copyright material is reproduced with the consent of the author Virginia Perry.”
Virginia Perry, JD is a licensed Virginia attorney and has been actively engaged in the general practice of law with an emphasis on family law and trials for over 30 years.
For more information about Virginia Perry, JD or for additional publications and articles on family law, see the website at http://www.valawtalk.com