National Edition

Preventing broken marriages from breaking kids

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 6:00 a.m. MDT

She told her daughter that she'd be a little sad at times because change is hard, but she would work to deal with that sadness so they could all be happy again.

Melanie English, a child custody evaluator in Seattle, said technology can help families. Ourfamilywizard.com, for example, has an app that lets parents share the kids' calendar, eliminating some unnecessary conflict. Texting allows for quick, simple communication.

"Any kind of written communication is helpful for kids, who want to see mom and dad get along and be nice," English said. Parents can provide information about what they ate or did in a notebook that travels with the children. It puts things on a more neutral, even businesslike footing.

"Pretend you're running a daycare with your ex, because you are," English said.

Parental cooperation is so important that kid-focused courses like Hickey's are often required as part of divorce proceedings. Kids privy to parents' conflict may withdraw, unsure what feelings to express. Often, they won't talk about it or the fact that it scares or hurts them, for fear of upsetting parents. They may wonder, Hickey said, if they are responsible for the toxic environment or the divorce itself.

Open communication

Talk is therapeutic — if it's constructive.

"Don't get the children involved in adult issues and the complications of divorce — only how it affects them," Hickey said. "Talk about their needs and what their worries are."

Instead of jumping in to solve all those worries, a parent can ask if it's OK to brainstorm. A child may not want to, or may welcome it. Hickey said asking restores some of the power the child may have lacked.

Children need to hear "over and over" how much you love them, Hickey said, even while with the other parent. But that's tricky and requires a respectful approach. It may reassure a child that she is loved but enrage the other parent, who doesn't want "my time" with the child disrupted. That's another place where putting the child first helps.

Don't be afraid to acknowledge the nasty divorces children may have seen in movies, on TV or in friends' families. Hickey said the conversation might go like this: "Thanks for sharing that, but here's the kind of divorce we're going to have. We both love you, we will both go to soccer games and parent-teacher conference, and you're going to spend time at both houses."

It will never be a perfect process, Hickey warned, and parents will make mistakes and say regrettable things, especially when emotions are really raw. When it happens, apologize. Hickey suggests: "I said some unkind things about your dad a couple weeks ago and I'm sure that hurt you. I want you to know I'm sorry. I know he's a good father ... I am human, and we all say things we regret and it's nice to apologize to the person we said them to."

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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