4 Ways to Support your Child
Divorce happens. It is more common than we may wish to think; statistically about 45% of couples divorce. Does this seem like a high rate to you? It actually hasn’t changed much in recent years. Regardless of the reason for the dissolution of your marriage, it is important to talk about the outcomes. As a marriage and family therapist, I often see children in the middle of a contentious divorce. Especially if the precursor to the divorce was violence, substance use, illegal activity, or infidelity. When one partner feels they have been wronged in a major way, the kids tend to feel more torn from the other parent. There are many terms for this, but the most common is parental alienation. Many times parental alienation leads to court involved parental reunification or reconciliation counseling.
Reunification counseling or as some call it Reconciliation counseling can be extremely beneficial for families that aren’t able to reconcile their parent-child differences. Research has demonstrated, when a child feels put in the middle, they will eventually choose a side. And when a child chooses a side, they are more likely to experience a wide range of challenges including depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and relationships issues. The reality is, in order to truly manage what is in the best interest of your child, being able to reunify with them may be the best option.
There are always two sides to this story, right?! On one hand you have the primary parent who has custody of the child, the one who see’s them the most, interacts with them often, and makes daily choices as to their best interest. The other side is the parent that has been alienated by choice or force from the child’s life. They wish to make decisions or have input often, but due to the lack of relationship or basic communication they know very little about the child’s life.
How do you decide if it is the appropriate time to reunify? How do you know if your child is ready for the process? How does one parent, the court, attorney’s or the judge deem it appropriate that the child is ready? How do you support your child in the reunification/reconciliation process, when it is court ordered? As a reconciliation counselor, here are a few ways to create a fluid process that supports your child.
While this may seem obvious to some, it is important to realize that our relationships with our children are built from a primary base of attachment and honesty. This can shift during the process of developmental stages of childhood or divorce. Allow the process of reunification to be one derived from honesty. Your child may be anxious or worried or sad or mad. You may feel a mired of all those feelings as well. It’s okay to allow your child to express those feelings, support them in listening and be honest that this process will be difficult but worth it. Coach your child to be full of character. Your child’s worry is an emotional expression not a reason not to engage in the process.
Be transparent about your worries with the therapist
This will increase our understanding of what to expect, what your concerns are, and how we can best move forward with the process in a way that best supports everyone. Family reconciliation counseling isn’t as collaborative as a process as typical family therapy, however this doesn’t mean that we don’t value your opinion or interest in your child’s welfare. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the best family outcome that works and feels safe and peaceful for all involved.
Keep your divorce specifics quiet
Let’s face it kids are smart. We don’t always intend for them to hear our conversation on the phone, or see our text messages. We may inadvertently leave our divorce paperwork out. These things happen by accident, not malice. In order to best support your child through this confusing process, it is important for you to be diligent in ensuring this doesn’t happen, or happens only minimally. Our kids are natural protectors of us (you thought it was the other way around huh!) They will always try to stay by your side and at times feel they have to choose sides in the midst of turmoil. The more they don’t know about the specifics, the better.
Be kind to your ex
This one may not always come so easily. When we feel hurt or wronged, many lash out. But remember, this is no longer your partner or your spouse. This is your child’s parent, and it is important to keep that structure in place for your child’s sake. Our children see us as their heroes, they don’t need to know that their other parent was unfaithful, nor do they need to know that they had past substance misuse or criminal charges. Those pieces of information belong to the other parent to disclose at an appropriate time.
While the reunification/reconciliation process can be difficult, I can assure you that for many families it is well worth the process. Learning to support your child through this time is one of the most important steps, but be sure to take care of yourself, get individual support and ask for assistance when needed!