Guidelines for Parents After Separation

from Public Service Information Provided by Mass. Bar Foundation

The behavior of parents has a great influence on the emotional adjustment of their children. This is equally true after the dissolution of a marriage. The following guidelines should help you and your children survive with a minimum amount of trauma.

  • Before acting, think first of your children’s present and future emotional well-being. Put your children’s welfare first. Try to see that their emotional needs are met and that as much as possible they can develop normally under the circumstances.
  • Continuing anger or bitterness toward your former partner can injure your child far more than the dissolution itself. The feelings you show are just as important as the words you use.
  • Refrain from voicing criticism of the other parent. It is difficult but absolutely necessary. For a child’s healthy development, it is important for him/her to respect both parents.
  • Maintain your own composure and good emotional balance as much as possible. Laugh when you can and keep a good sense of humor. Remember that children reflect your attitude in some measure.
  • Remember that normally time spent with both parents is needed and helpful to your child’s development and future welfare. Visitation should be pleasant for the children as well as the parents. Visitation should help your children maintain a positive relationship with both parents.
  • Remember the best parts of your marriage. Share them with your children and use them constructively.
  • Assure your children that they are not responsible for your breakup, and that they are neither being rejected nor abandoned. Children, especially young ones, often feel they have done something wrong and believe the family problems are a result of their misdeeds or wishes.
  • Do not force or encourage your children to take sides. Doing so often hurts the children by creating frustration and guilt. They will resent the attempt and it may cause them to resent you.
  • Time spent together should be meaningful to each parent and the children. Although the parents have not been able to get along, children still need them both in order to grow up normally.
  • A visiting parent should keep his/her visitation schedule and inform the other parent if the appointment cannot be kept. Failure to do so may be construed by the child as rejection.
  • Visitation schedules may from time to time require adjustment according to your children’s age, health and interests.
  • Try not to upset a child’s routine too abruptly. Children need a sense of continuity. Too many changes are disturbing to them.
  • A parent’s involvement with the children is far more important than the type activity or amusement planned on parental visits. A giving of yourself is more important than material things you might give them.
  • Children should not be used to check on the other parent. They should not be used as little spies or pumped for information.
  • Assure your children that they are not responsible for your breakup, and that they are neither being rejected nor abandoned.
  • Do not force or encourage your children to take sides. Doing so often hurts the children by creating frustration and guilt. They will resent the attempt and it may cause them to resent you.

Both parents should strive for agreement, especially discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other.

A child needs consistent control and direction. Over-permissiveness or indecisive parents interferes with a child’s healthy development. Try to see that their emotional needs are met and that as much as possible they can develop normally under the circumstances.

Marriage breakdown is always hard on children. Parents should be direct and simple in telling them what is happening and why in a way that a child can understand.

Don’t try to hush things up and make a child feel that he can’t talk about what is going on. Unpleasant happenings need an explanation which should be brief, timely, direct, and honest.

If You Need Help…

Unfortunately, many people believe that to ask for help is a sign of weakness, for in reality it is a sign of strength. It takes much courage for a person to recognize that he is incapable of solving his problems and to seek help.

Professional counseling may create an awareness which can assist you in dealing with your children’s problems. The counselor’s function is to guide the person and give some direction to his search for solution in meeting the emotional needs of children.

The family service officer of the probate courts in Massachusetts or an attorney may provide you with names of professional counselors, agencies or services to assist you in dealing with problems in this area.

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