Every day in my office, I see parents, embittered by divorce and so grateful to finally be physically and legally apart from a partner they once loved and now hate, struggling to co-parent and jointly make decisions about their children.
Every day, adults who once loved each other so much that they promised to stay together until the end of time storm into my office, dragging behind them children dejected and battered by Mom and Dad’s rage toward each other.
The out-of-control battles parents wage over raising children after divorce leave deep and dangerous open wounds and scars on their children long after the parents have moved on, making their children the real casualties of that war. I see these wounds every day in the children who come into my office. Their grades have plummeted. They act out at school and on the ball field. They are angry or sad. Their physicians raise red flags. Their teachers are concerned. I see children, emotionally and behaviorally hurt by the war between their parents, trying frantically to create stability as their world changes too quickly for them to keep up — and so they fall.
Handling the holidays creates tremendous conflicts in families of divorce. Differences in religious beliefs and observances, demands of extended families and commitments to new relationships all serve to increase the conflicts between separated parents.
There are several different approaches to managing holidays. Sometimes parents alternate years. For others, if the child spends Rosh Hashanah with Father, then she spends Passover seder with Mother that year. Other times, parents prefer to divide up the significant days — Rosh Hashanah with Mother until 3 p.m. and then with Father after 3 p.m. This allows the child to celebrate each holiday with both families. To ensure that domestic law attorneys remain well employed in interpreting documents, both approaches are sometimes combined, alternating years and alternating times. A third approach, especially popular with parents of younger children, may be to try to spend holidays together, believing that maintaining family traditions are better for their children.
In examining which approach might be the best for the children, one must explore the key factors that influence the impact of divorce on children.
The co-parenting relationship rests on three broad principles that guide parents after divorce to promote positive growth and development in their children. First, research confirms that children of divorce do better if they maintain positive, meaningful, real and consistent relationships with both of their parents. What parents consider equal parenting means nothing to the child.
Second, the parental relationship has to be as free of conflict as possible. Both parents are still the child’s parents, and they must model conflict-free parenting.
Third, parents must work to assure that both parents are actively involved in the life of the child and making decisions for the child. Children are hurt by the divorce, but they are far more damaged by how parents behave following the separation. And one of the biggest sources of that pain is the difficulty parents have in making decisions, or in simply being together at important times of the children’s lives.
The bottom line is that when adults fight — and when they cannot together effectively set consistent boundaries, rules and expectations that will allow active and meaningful relationships with both parents — the child suffers.
The key is flexibility and responsiveness to the child.