Congratulations to our spring 2021 scholarship winner, Taylor Vasicek! Below is his essay.
By Taylor Vasicek
Each year, divorce affects thousands of children and families. How can parents make transitions for their children easier?
While going through a divorce can be rough on both the couple and their children, it is often the best course of action for many families. Many things can make divorce difficult on children – secrecy, animosity and competition between the parents, using the children as leverage, and/or over-involving children. In order to ensure the smoothest transition for their children, parents should remain respectful of one another, establish clear communication and boundaries, be open with children about the next steps, and have frequent, age appropriate discussions with children about their feelings and needs.
First and foremost, if possible, parents should remain a united front when navigating the process with children. Parents should explain the decision and what it means, and reiterate that their choice to end their relationship was not affected by the children and has no bearing on each parent’s love for their child(ren). Especially at young ages or during confusing times, children can blame themselves for stressful or negative family situations. Another way to make this transition easier on the child is to avoid having any hostile conversations about the divorce proceedings around the children (Kruk, 2012). Even if this means writing down specific notes about their ex-partners behavior to provide to the attorney or mediator, parents should try their best to refrain from heated, reactionary discussions in the home or with the children present
Children tend to pick up on subliminal issues and often listen in when discussions are happening in the home – ideally, children would not find out any information about the transition this way. Instead, parents should sit down with the children and explain any changes that are coming – a move, custody arrangements, or a change in school or daycare. Of course, it would be best if the children were able to remain in their home, attend the same school, and live as “normally” as possible. However, even if nothing changes other than one of the parents moving out of the home, this can still be disruptive. Often, children, especially older children, will react to these changes in varying ways. Some may act out, some may withdraw, and some may not feel comfortable speaking to the parent(s) about their feelings (Cohen, 2002).
This is why it is so important to work with objective forces like a family therapist, who children can speak to honestly and privately, and learn to resolve any negative feelings in a healthy way. Perhaps most importantly, parents should work with a mediating attorney if possible, with the goal of developing a parenting plan and avoiding custody proceedings in which children may be required to testify. This is often deeply traumatic for children, and avoiding this process will help the child to avoid any feelings of personal responsibility or fear, and avoids continual re-traumatization each time the child(ren) must return to court, (Schepart et al., 1991). Having attorneys you can trust, who understand conflict resolution and de-escalation tactics, and who can help you avoid those situations is essential.
Cohen, G. J., & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. (2002). Helping children and families deal with divorce and separation. Pediatrics, 110(5), 1019-1023.
Kruk, E. (2012, November 20). Family therapy and parenting coordination to reduce conflict. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com
Schepard, A., Atwood, J., & Schlissel, S. W. (1991). Preventing trauma for the children of divorce through education and professional responsibility. Nova L. Rev., 16, 767.