Parenting a child after divorce can be challenging. Depending on the parents approach parenting after divorce can be a success. To help understand some parenting challenges that can arise after a divorce and tips for successful parenting after divorce, I have interviewed therapist Stephanie Summers LMFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida. I have worked with individuals, couples, and families for over twenty years. My practice focuses on the foundational issues of relationships from a family systems perspective, integrating basic Christian values. My areas of specialization also include divorce adjustment and parenting issues.”
What are some parenting challenges that arise after divorce?
“Common parenting problems that may arise after divorce include acting out behavior of children, loyalty issues, and visitation issues and shared custody issues. Divorced parents may struggle with the challenge of continuing to raise their children in a healthy, happy family after divorce. The adjustment of restructuring the family unit involves discussion and cooperation among parents and children.
Children often feel pulled or “in the middle” between divorcing parents. It is important for each parent to foster the child’s loyalty to both parents and to be responsible for their communication with or about the other parent. Finances can also be an area of concern after divorce. Children may have difficulty changing residences or schools. They often struggle with going back and forth between two households. Problems can also arise when one parent is the “Disneyland parent” while the other may be struggling to make ends meet.”
What type of impact do these challenges have on the parent/child relationship?
“It depends on how the parent handles each situation. A parent who either purposely or inadvertently says or does things that erode a child’s loyalty or respect for the other parent never “wins”. This sense of superiority is at the child’s expense and is emotionally damaging to a child’s sense of personal worth.
The integrity of the parent/child relationship can be maintained if the adjustment and family restructuring issues are handled with care. Children have a deep need for a sense of belonging in the family. If parents are diligent to show interest in the child and in his or her activities, this sense of value and connectedness can be maintained.
Often, one parent may have been more of the disciplinarian prior to the divorce. Children are prone to act out their hurt and anger more with the parent who has less structure. The relationship will be damaged if that parent does not step up to the plate and provide age-appropriate limits and rules within the home. Role reversal can take place when the child does not feel secure. In these situations the child may take on the parent role with siblings or even with the parent who is perceived as not being in control. These children need a strong parental influence in order to feel secure and to go about the business of being a child or teen, rather than dealing with adult issues.”
What are some tips you can give for successful parenting after divorce?
“The following are some tips for successful parenting after divorce:
1. Take good care of yourself. Don’t be a martyr or a victim.
2. Keep your children out of the middle of issues with your ex. Allow them to be children, not “little adults”.
3. Utilize humor. Don’t take yourselves or your situation so serious that you drain all the joy out of your lives. Things will get better!
4. Learn to treat your ex (who is still your child’s parent) with human dignity and respect. Remember that your child identifies with you both.
5. Remember that you are the adult. Find healthy ways to meet your own emotional needs without looking to your children to fill that role. Inappropriately leaning on our children during these times can become a form of emotional incest.
6. Draw upon your unique strengths as a divorced family. Studies have shown that healthy families spend quality time together. They show interest in each other’s lives and they share their spirituality. Healthy families also compliment each other and resolve conflicts in a supportive manner.”
What kind of professional help is available to parents who want to successfully parent after divorce?
“I recommend a period of professional counseling for families who are going through the fragmentation of divorce. If feelings are repressed and not dealt with in a constructive manner they have a way of causing problems down the road. A teen may display acting out behavior that is generally out of character for him or her if feelings surrounding the divorce are not adequately dealt with. Children and adults can also develop issues with anxiety or depression during this type of life change.
Many churches now offer divorce care groups for children and families. Your own minister can be a source of support as well. Divorce adjustment groups for students are available in most elementary schools to help children to not feel isolated in their grief. It gives a child a sense of comfort to know that they are not the only one going through a family divorce. There are also many helpful books in your library or bookstore to help parents who need practical answers on how to successfully parent their children after divorce.”
Thank you Stephanie for doing the interview on successful parenting after divorce. For more information on Stephanie Summers or her work you can check out her website on Www.ssummers.com or email her at [email protected]
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