Children need a sense of continuity. It can be mentally and emotionally disturbing to them to cope with too many changes at once.
During a legal separation and after your divorce decree, it’s critical to maintain consistent parenting. Separated parents who may be giving the same children mixed signals about rules of behavior should communicate frankly and directly with each other on disciplinary issues in order to provide consistent rules and limits for the children.
Dissolution of a marriage often leads to financial pressures on both parents. When there is a financial crisis, the parents’ first impulse may be to keep the children from realizing it. Often, they would rather make sacrifices themselves than ask the children to do so. The atmosphere is healthier when there is honesty and when children are expected to help. However, you should not blame the other parent or involve the children in adult decisions.
Marriage breakdown is always hard on the children. They may not always show their distress or realize at first what this will mean to them. Parents should be direct and simple in telling children what is happening and why, and in a way a child can understand and digest. This will vary with the circumstances and with each child’s age and comprehension. It seldom works to try to hush things up and make children feel like they must not talk or think about what they sense is going on. Unpleasant events need explanation, which should be brief, prompt, direct and honest. The story of your marriage dissolution may have to be retold after the child gets older and considers life more maturely. Though it would be unwise to present either party as a martyr, it would also be wrong to pretend there are no regrets and that dissolution is so common it hardly matters.
The guilt parents feel about the marriage breakdown may interfere in their disciplining the children. A child needs consistent control and direction. Over-permissiveness, or indecisive parents who leave children at the mercy of every passing whim and impulse interfere with the children’s healthy development. Children need and want to know what is expected of them. Children feel more secure when limits are set and can become confused when grown-ups seem to permit behavior that they themselves know to be wrong and are trying to outgrow. Children need consistent leadership and authority and parents must be ready to say “No” when necessary.
We know this directive is easier said than done. A collaborative divorce process can help mediate these types of decisions and assist with long-term communication during and after divorce. If you are going through the divorce process and are interested in a collaborative divorce, please contact Davis Law Group. We have a dedicated, empathetic team of Family Law Attorneys who can help you and your children navigate this challenging time.
This information has been modified by Davis Law Group, P.C. for use by its clients from materials revised and reprinted by the Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar originating from a handout obtained many years ago from Judge Jack T. Ryburn of the Los Angeles, California, Supreme Court.