Dr. Amy Stark
Child Psychologist, Author & Speaker
Teaching Families How to Live Divorced
and Self-Esteem for Girls and Boys
Food For Thought
Divorce: Put Your Child First
A sixth grade boy is up at bat. Instead of focusing on the pitcher and whether or not he should swing, his mind is focusing on his parents in the stands. Will his dad yell at his mom? Will his mom give a dirty look at his dad? Will there be a fight in the parking lot on the way to the car where his friend's parents feel the need to call the police to "keep the peace"? Will he be able to recover from the embarrassment he feels as EVERYONE on his team sees his parents behaving badly? He wonders if he should quit the team...not because he hates baseball. He hates the parent stress that comes along with it. He is hurt and angry as he swings and misses a ball that he should not even have swung at.
A fourth grade girl is at her school's open house. She has so much good work to show both her parents. Her top prize essay has been posted on the classroom wall and her desk is filled with a folder proudly showing her test scores and art work. “Uh, oh,” she thinks to herself. Mom and dad are already fighting outside the classroom door. All her friends can hear them argue about child support and medical co-pays. She goes outside the door with tears in her eyes. Her parents are so angry at each other, they do not see her distress. The principal comes to separate the parents and suggests that each one go in with her alone to give them a chance to focus on her work.
She goes in with mom first. Mom gushes over her work and her essay. When its dad's turn to come, the girl discovers that her essay has been removed from the wall and her folder on her desk is empty. She realizes her mom took the work so that her father could not see it. She is horrified and upset. What should have been an evening focusing on her, is now an evening all about parental fighting.
Parents often forget that their children's lives have become such a war zone. They are so angry about their ex's misdeeds they often do not think about the consequences of their actions. They use exchange time to 'discuss' issues that should never be discussed in front of children--EVER. They are thinking that they have a captive audience since their ex is standing right there. The fact that their children are, too, seems inconsequential.
In order to co-parent, parents need to put their child first. The sniping needs to stop and communications should be about needs of their child. Parents need to communicate about medical, dental, activities and school issues that might impact their child. They should have an organized way to exchange clothing. It’s a good idea to never communicate about issues during an exchange, but to use a neutral site such as Talking Parents or Our Family Wizard. Sometimes the court orders parents to take a co-parenting course to learn how to communicate more effectively.
Further important is the fact that children need to grow. When they are constantly placed in a stressful situation in their own home, the place that should be safe, it is harmful. Since you can only control your side of things, you can minimize this by how you handle things while your children are with you. DO NOT discuss or disparage the other parent. Do not tell your child they are most like their other parent, when they make mistakes or mess up.
It’s also important to remember that children have developmental goals they need to meet at every age, whether or not their parents are at war. Children need to meet grade standards in reading, math and science. They need to socialize and make friends and learn how to treat others with kindness. They need enriching activities, whether it be sports or the arts. Focus on that. Be involved in their education and socialization. Lead by example. Show them you can stay out of focusing on their other parent, to the detriment of their time with you. Create a war-free zone in your home, so that your children feel safe and loved. This will help them be more resilient and able to focus on their lives, instead of your divorce.
Dr. Stark's Web site is not intended to take the place of a court-ordered advice or the advice of another professional. Although you may use the input found here to your best advantage, we recommend that you do so in conjunction with the work that you are doing with your individual therapist. Remember: this Web site is not therapy; it's knowledge and support.
Psychologist License PSY7828, California213 E City Place Drive
Santa Ana, CA 92705