The importance of equal parenting after divorce
Each year, more than 1 million children experience the emotional trauma of divorce. Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, often leaving kids feeling dejected, angry or fearful of their future.
“We know from research that divorce is so enormously stressful. It’s second only to death of a loved one in terms of how stressful it is to deal with and the amount of time it takes to adjust,” JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, researcher and author of “Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive through Divorce.”
While divorce can be traumatic for kids of all ages, parents who work together and put their children’s needs first can minimize the emotional toll on the entire family. Pedro-Carroll says parents should practice what she calls the two pillars of quality parenting: to be emotionally supportive and nurturing, while providing structure and setting limits for their children’s behavior
Parents sometimes decide to relax their rules because they feel guilty that their kids are going through the difficulty of a divorce or because they want to be viewed as the parent who is more fun, says Pedro-Carroll.
“One of the things that we know repeatedly in research is how risky it can be for children when they kind of fall between parents who aren’t monitoring and who aren’t setting limits. Having limits makes them feel secure.”
One of the biggest risk factors for children is on-going conflict between parents, especially when kids are caught in the middle.
“It’s devastating for children when they are used as messengers or spies,” says Pedro-Carroll. Asking for details about an ex-spouse’s new boyfriend or having kids deliver an angry message about the late alimony check places them in the middle of the conflict where they are often forced to take sides or may get in trouble with the other parent for sharing too much information.
“Parents need to contain their own emotions and not get pulled into conflict with their ex,” she says. “They basically have to love their children more than they hate their ex, so that they can pick a problem-solving approach.”
Pedro-Carroll recommends that divorced parents adopt a business-like approach when interacting with each other, just as they would in their professional life. By redefining their relationship from former lover and spouse to respected colleague, they can focus on the mutual goal of raising their children with consistent rules and values. Assuming they are both fit to parent, they should be supportive of their children having a healthy relationship with both of them.