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Do You Rate Your Separation
parents separate, they worry about the effect of their separation on the kids.
Not only is there data to suggest that adults whose parents separated when they
were children are at greater risk of divorce themselves, but also data that
suggests the greater the parental conflict during separation, the greater the
likelihood of negative outcomes for the children. The challenge for parents is
determining their level of conflict and supporting their kids accordingly.
conflict during separation can be categorized as low, medium and high.
low levels of conflict, parents are generally able to manage the separation
process between themselves. These are parents who likely sit across from each
other at the kitchen table and reasonably and rationally divide their assets and
develop a plan between themselves for the ongoing care of the children. It
doesn’t quite matter what agreement they reach, the defining variable of
low-level conflict is settling matters without outside support.
with medium levels of conflict find their behaviour degenerating when attempting
to settle matters between themselves. Hence they require outside resources. The
outside resources may include lawyers or a mediator and sometimes other friends,
family or clergy. The defining variable of medium-level conflict is that parents
are unable to settle without support, but given the support, they do settle.
with high levels of conflict are unable to settle matters between themselves
whether unassisted or assisted. Hence the defining variable of high-level
conflict is when parents turn to the Courts to determine their settlement. Even
if parents settle as a result of a settlement conference at Court, that they are
before the Courts defines their conflict as high.
parents believe they shelter or protect their kids from the separation conflict.
The truth of the matter is, the greater the conflict, the greater the stress
upon the parents. The greater the stress, the more likely their stress will be
picked up and experienced by the children. Hence it is a misnomer that parents
can shelter their kids from such conflict. So the issue is less if they are
sheltering the kids, but rather how they are helping the children cope through a
conflicted separation process.
some parents believe it is best to say nothing to their children, in fact, it is
often better to acknowledge the stressors and difficulties. This can be done
without bad-mouthing either parent, but simply acknowledging they have yet to
come to an agreement. Kids can be helped to understand that even though the
parents are in distress, they both still love the children and are working to
resolve matters as best they can. The children can be told that when the parents
are unable to resolve matters between themselves, they turn to outside help. The
parents can tell their children they are turning to wise persons to help them
decide what may be best. Children will have had similar experiences with their
peers. They have had times when they have been upset and when teachers have come
to their aid to help settle matters. This is a positive example. Similarly then
and by the parental role model, children can be encouraged to discuss their
feelings and when necessary, turn to outside support such as may be offered by a
group for children whose parents are separating. At the very least and in view
of the parental role model, children may be more apt to talk with a teacher or
counsellor if distressed. As the kids then better manage their feelings, they
can better concentrate on school work and other childhood tasks.
Parents are advised to do all they can to keep their conflict to a minimum and find ways to resolve matters as amicably as possible between themselves. When negotiating, whether through lawyers or mediators, be careful not to hold on too tightly to a specific position. Flexibility may hold the key to a settlement and a smoother transition for their children.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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