January is International Child-Centered Divorce Month. Did you know that more divorces are filed for in January than any other month, so that’s why January was chosen to recognize the children?
In my clinical office, January is always a time when business picks up. People wait until after the holidays to find time to work together on their relationship. I love to work with couples to help them find their way back to each other. Relationship therapy is difficult, as it’s hard for all of us to face what we need to work on in ourselves.
Divorce is difficult as well. Everyone I’ve worked with says it’s more painful than they ever thought. And co-parenting with your ex-partner is not easy and requires conscious work. It’s a big life opportunity to gain personal growth through a steep and painful learning curve.
In relationship therapy, sometimes we just can’t put the relationship back together. So, then I counsel people through their divorce. I encourage people to behave responsibly, to grow in generosity. It’s a painful stretch for everyone.
I coach parents about age appropriate ways to talk to their children about adult situations. I explicitly urge parents to not use their child as a pawn to hurt their ex-partner.
Many parents are responsible and conscious and take their parenting after divorce seriously and manage to put their child’s well-being ahead of their own emotional needs. They parent from their authentic self.
But there are those people who can’t be reached. They’re mired in internal defenses, angrily, sadly, protecting the child self within and haven’t grown past a childlike, ego-centric view of the world.
In honor of Child-Centered Divorce Month, put your children first.
During your divorce, if you’re find yourself being obsessive and cruel about your spouse, strive to be conscious that it’s likely your own unhealed childhood wounds driving you.
Seek help to do so. Use the health insurance that you already pay for to find a trained therapist with whom to talk. Therapists are healthcare professionals with extensive training who can help you find your individual pathway to managing your pain and your life, if you are willing.
Be conscious that putting your kids in the middle of your adult decisions and adult conflicts with your ex-spouse hurts them more than it hurts your ex-spouse.
When you make your children choose between you and your ex-spouse, when you try to pit them against your ex, you’re creating a battleground in their young bodies and minds.
When you consistently don’t let your child participate in sports or in Brownies or Cub Scouts because their meeting falls on your day and you won’t drive them over there, when you consistently fight with your ex-partner about these types of issues, you’re being self-centered and catering to your own issues, your own wounded child.
Love is not just a feeling, it’s a verb that needs action and commitment. If you love your children, change your negative behaviors now (even if it feels incongruent) and get help with your feelings and thoughts.
Become conscious that your relationship with your ex-spouse, both during marriage and during divorce, is also likely related to your current adult attachment style, which is rooted in your childhood.
If you were chronically angry and rejecting, afraid or avoidant of your ex-spouse (during marriage and during divorce) chances are this current adult attachment style is rooted in your childhood.
Think about how it felt to be in your childhood home. Did you recreate this in your adult home?
Are you now still relentlessly pursuing this negative isolating behavior?
Are you still feeling alone and angry?
Become conscious of your feelings, of your past.
You CAN break the cycle.
Love is not just a fleeting feeling. Love is a verb. Love is behavior.
You can change your behavior now and work long-term on understanding and managing your feelings and thoughts.
If you are unsure of what’s good for your children, read the classic
The Rights of Children by Lois V. Nightingale, PhD, printed below.
The Rights of Children
Children have the right to:
1. Continue to love both parents without guilt or disapproval (subtle or overt) by either parent or other relatives.
2. Be repeatedly reassured that the divorce is not their fault.
3. Be reassured they are safe and their needs will be provided for.
4. Have a special place for their own belongings at both parents’ residences.
5. Visit both parents regardless of what the adults in the situation feel, and regardless of convenience, or money situations.
7. Not be messengers between parents; not to carry notes, legal papers, money or requests between parents.
8. Not make adult decisions, including where they will live, where and when they will be picked up or dropped off, or who is to blame.
9. Love as many people as they choose without being made to feel guilty or disloyal. (Loving and being loved by many people is good for children; there is not a limit on the number of people a child can love.)
10. Continue to be kids, i.e. not take on adult duties and responsibilities or become a parent’s special confidant, companion or comforter (i.e. not to hear repeatedly about financial problems or relationship difficulties).
11. Stay in contact with relatives, including grandparents and special family friends.
12. Choose to spend at least one week a year living apart from their custodial parent.
13. Not be on an airplane, train or bus on major holidays for the convenience of adults.
14. Have teachers and school informed about the new status of their family.
15. Have time with each parent doing activities that create a sense of closeness and special memories.
16. Have a daily and weekly routine that is predictable and can be verified by looking at a schedule on a calendar in a system understandable to the child. (For instance: a green line represents the scheduled time with dad, and a purple line represents the scheduled time with mom, etc.)
17. Participate in sports, special classes or clubs that support their unique interests, and have adults that will get them to these events, on time without guilt or shame.
18. Contact the absent parent and have phone conversations without eavesdropping or tape-recording.
19. Ask questions and have them answered respectfully with age-appropriate answers that do not include blaming or belittlements of anyone.
20. Be exposed to both parents’ religious ideas (without shame), hobbies, interests and tastes in food.
21. Have consistent and predictable boundaries in each home. (Although the rules in each house may differ significantly, each parent’s set of rules needs to be predictable within their household.)
22. Be protected from hearing adult arguments and disputes.
23. Have parents communicate (even if only in writing) about their medical treatment, psychological treatment, educational issues, accidents and illnesses.
24. Not be interrogated upon return from the other parent’s home or asked to spy in the other parent’s home.
25. Own pictures of both parents.
26. Choose to talk with a special adult about their concerns and issues (counselor, therapist or special friend).
Become a conscious person, in touch with your authentic self.
Become a conscious parent.
Want to read more about co-parenting through divorce?