What advice should you give your clients about how to deal with their children and new relationships during and after divorce? First you need to remind your clients that children experience anxiety, anger and sadness during a divorce, especially if they are put in the middle of their parent’s disagreements or asked to lend emotional support to a parent. Remind your clients there are things they can do during and after a divorce to minimize damage to their children from the breakup. Advise your clients not to fight in front of the children, avoid seeking emotional support from children during the divorce, remind clients not to alienate their children from the other parent, suggest your client take the high road during the divorce, avoid beginning a new relationship too quickly, separate dating and parenting, pay attention to children’s negative feelings about a new partner, don’t discuss your feelings with the children, talk with your new partner about parenting and don’t imagine a step-parent will replace their biological parent.
Don’t Criticize Your Spouse
Remind your clients that in the middle of a divorce children are distressed enough without upsetting them more by fighting. Acknowledge that your client may be rightfully angry, feel betrayed and want their current spouse out of their life. However, remind your client that children need to feel both parents will love and care for them after the divorce is over, so don’t interfere with their children’s love for both parents. Tell your clients that children don’t want to be put in the middle and have to choose one parent over the other.
Don’t Use Children for Emotional Support
Getting through a divorce is difficult, and it’s tempting to use children for emotional support. However, tell your clients it’s a bad idea. Remind them it’s the parent’s job to support the children, not the other way around. Tell your client to talk with a friend or see a counselor to share feelings, but don’t discuss emotional concerns with the children. Kids have enough on their mind trying to cope with their own feelings about the break-up of their family without having to take care of a parent.
Don’t Alienate Children
Point out to your clients that children need two parents to love and care for them and make them feel secure. If parents say awful things about each other and force their children to choose between the parents, their children will be confused and distressed. Counsel your clients not to use the children against a spouse in a dispute about child support, visitation or parenting. Remind your client that their children may not want to have anything to do with either parent when they grow up and move out if they are alienated.
Take the High Road
Remind your clients that once the divorce is over they will still have to deal with their ex-spouse because of the children. They will be parents as long as they live, and they should keep that thought in mind during and after the divorce. Tell your clients that being reasonable during the divorce and treating each other with respect will help them develop a working relationship post-divorce. Point out that the collaborative divorce process will help them work out a friendlier post-divorce relationship and promote better co-parenting. Advise your clients that when conflicts occur after the divorce, give each other the benefit of the doubt. It will be much better for your children to have two parents who can get along and cooperate.
Don’t Rush into a New Relationship
It’s important that your clients understand they should take time to recover from the grief, anxiety, and anger of divorce before getting serious about a new partner. Bringing a new person into children’s lives is fraught with potential problems. No one can replace their biological parent and having another authority figure around can be difficult for children. Also, the children may feel jealous of the time their mom or dad spends with the new partner. Remind your clients that they should not lose sight of the children’s needs when enjoying a new relationship.
Separate Dating and Parenting
Advise your clients not to make the common mistake of introducing a new partner to their children too soon. Suggest you client get to know the new partner before bringing them home to meet the kids. Children have been through enough emotional distress during the divorce and don’t need to become attached to another person and then have him or her disappear. Take time to make certain the new relationship will work before involving the children.
Handling Children’s Negative Reactions
Many clients ask--what should I do if the kids don’t like my new partner? Suggest to your client that they not reject the children’s feelings out of hand, but give them a chance to explain why they have a negative attitude. Point out that if a daughter says mom’s boyfriend makes her feel creepy, reports she saw him searching through mom’s private financial documents or the boys say he is physically abusive, your client may want to drop him immediately. On the other hand, if the children complain that he takes too much of their parent’s time and they are jealous, advise your client to listen to the children’s complaints, but don’t allow them to veto a relationship for that reason. These concerns are understandable, but not reasonable. Point out to your client that their children need to get used to the fact that parents have a life and need to live it as well as be a parent. Advise your client to see the new partner away from home for a while until the relationship is clearly serious before slowly reintroducing him or her to the children.
Don’s Discuss Feelings with the Children
Remind your clients that every new relationship has ups and downs and they will want to share their feelings with someone. However, children are not proper confidants. Suggest your clients talk to a friend or a counselor, but remind them not to discuss their feelings with the children because the kids will become confused about who is the parent and who is the child.
Talk with the New Partner About Parenting
Advise your client that before a new partner meets the children, your client needs to have a serious discussion about parenting and make certain both of them are on the same page about how to deal with children. If having this conversation is uncomfortable, that probably means your client isn’t ready to introduce the new partner to the children. Also, tell your client that if he or she is more worried about how a partner will react to the children than how the children will feel, that’s a bad sign. Putting a new relationship ahead of children is potentially destructive. If this happens, suggest to your client that they need to spend some time thinking about their responsibilities as a parent and how to balance that with dating.
Don’t Imagine a New Spouse Will Replace Their Parent
Suggest to your client that a blended family can provide additional parenting help and emotional support. But children may rebel if forced into a parent-child relationship with a new spouse before they are ready. Remind your clients not to bring a new partner into the children’s lives too quickly. Give the children time to get used to the idea that there will be someone new in the home. Introducing a new partner to children less than a year after the end of the divorce is often difficult for them. Make certain the new relationship is serious before introducing him or her to the children. Also, remind your clients to prepare the children for change and listen to their feelings and wishes.
Helping your clients and their children deal with a divorce and a new relationship are important goals. Children are distressed during a divorce because their parents often fight and they feel caught in the middle. To minimize damage to children during and after a divorce, advise your clients not to fight in front of the children, avoid using children for emotional support, don’t alienate the children from their other parent, take time before beginning a new relationship, separate dating and parenting, listen to children’s feelings about a new partner, remind your clients not to share feelings with the children, suggest they discuss parenting attitudes with a new partner and take care when introducing a step-parent into the family.