The Best Decisions for Your Children During Divorce
When beginning the process of a divorce or separation, most of us are determined to put our children’s best interests first and keep an amicable working relationship with our co-partner. But divorce is often an emotional process, making it hard to set personal emotions aside and keep focused on what is best for your children. It can also be hard to separate what you may be feeling from what your children are feeling.
Katherine interviewed Risa Garon, who works to educate parents, courts, mental health professionals, and attorneys better understand the grief process and how it interacts with child developmental needs. Risa explained how to stay focused on your children and keep conflict low during this stressful, emotional process.
Risa is a licensed clinical social worker, a certified family life educator, and a board-certified diplomat. She is the executive director and co-founder of the National Family Resiliency Center. At the Center, she worked with her staff to develop a child-focused decision-making model for professionals and parents to make decisions in the best interests of the children and build a constructive and trusting co-parenting relationship.
Using a Child-Focused Decision-Making Model
In a child-focused divorce model, the parents work together, making their child’s peace of mind, development, and safety and security the primary focus, no matter how they feel about one another. Risa’s child-focused model helps parents make decisions in the best interests of their children by considering four factors, including:
- Child Development
- The Possible Impact of Separation and Divorce
- Parenting Responsibilities
- Addressing High Conflict
This blog will discuss Risa’s first two components, child development, and the possible impact of separation and divorce on the family. In our follow-up, we’ll discuss parenting responsibilities and how to address high levels of conflict between you and your co-parent.
In this first component of child-focused decision-making, we teach parents and professionals about how a child develops, including their:
- Intellectual development,
- Educational growth, and
- Safety and security.
Understanding what is developmentally appropriate for a child helps ensure that a child can still feel secure. Moreover, parents can gain more realistic expectations for their child’s emotional and intellectual understanding during a divorce and separation. Risa uses the example of unfolding a ball of yarn – if you can unwind it correctly, addressing your child’s needs at the appropriate time, your child will be ready to move on to the next developmental stage.
The Possible Impact of Separation and Divorce
After learning about child development, we focus on the possible impact of separation and divorce on a child for each stage of development. By understanding what may happen, we can help our kids through difficult times and focus on what’s best for the children instead of what the parents may prefer or feel. Often children will blame themselves, internalizing strife in the home and believing that their failures caused their parents’ arguments. Children of all ages may think, “If only I’d been better at cleaning my room, doing my homework, or not making Mom and Dad mad, they wouldn’t be yelling at each other.” While adults may see these thoughts as irrational, we need to understand how our children will see divorce and how it may impact them.
Children can also suffer intellectually and educationally if their parents are fighting. During times of conflict, kids with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder might not receive prompt testing and evaluation, impacting their educational growth. Concerning emotional development, we need to look at how parents interact and whether their communication with one another is civil. These interactions can affect a child’s psychological and physical well-being.
Parent conflict can also affect your child’s social development. Risa used the example of one parent telling a child, “‘It’s my time, so you’re not going to Sally’s birthday party today,’ when we know for that child, it’s very normal and healthy to want to interact with friends and classmates.” I had a client once hear from her child, “Listen. It’s not your weekend or Daddy’s weekend. It’s my weekend.” And that child-focused approach can be just the right tact to take.
In our follow-up, we’ll discuss the third and fourth components of child-focused decision making and share more wisdom from clinical social worker Risa Garon of the National Family Resiliency Center.
You may be interested in our guide: Divorce Related Fears – And How To Get Rid Of Them