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If you model good communication with your spouse during a divorce, it can be a helpful lesson to your children. It will help them learn how to handle life's conflicts in the long run. Children in divorce do much better and are more secure when they feel their parents are managing "grown-up" life issues in a "grown-up" way.
In The Good Karma Divorce: Avoid Litigation, Turn Negative Emotions Into Positive Actions and Get On with the Rest of Your Life (HarperOne, 2011) author Michele Lowrance, a former divorce court judge in Cook County, Illinois, recommends mediation to curtail destructive communication among divorcing spouses.
“The sight of couples who participate exuberantly in a demolition derby always disturbs me,” she wrote. “They lash out and irreparable damages are done.”
Those damages, of course, could be to your children.
Judge Lowrence told ABC’s Robin Roberts in an interview: “We watch who is enjoying the conflict, and who is compromising for the sake of the children.”
She recounted a story of a 10-year-old boy in court who said, “If only I was dead, my parents would stop fighting.’ He thought since they were always fighting over him, he caused the divorce. She recommends you tell the child—age-appropriately--why the divorce was not their fault. She also explains that when you degrade your partner, you are interrupting your child’s ability to feel safe in the world.
(This story about Billy Graham's divorce and their children's experience of their absent father shows a lot of suffering and endurance from the children's perspective.)
How to help children in divorce situations
When you can manage your own anger and do your best to focus on more positive interactions with your spouse, your children will benefit.
If you think of your spouse as a ‘difficult co-worker,’ you can still speak to each other professionally -- because work needs to be done. When parents keep their communications positive, they are both modeling healthy communication skills and showing respect for their children by not sticking them in the middle of their divorce mess.
If former spouses can communicate well, their children learn that even though relationships sometimes end, moms and dads can continue to be respectful to each other.
“I made a point to not degrade their dad in front of them,” said one mom in Virginia, whose kids were 9 and 14 when they divorced. “Both my parents and myself never spoke badly about my ex in front of them. The first time they went back to visit their dad, they found out literally right before they walked in the door that he had gotten together with a friend of ours. They were angry and disappointed and wanted to come home. I took the high road and told them they didn’t have to like her, but they did have to respect her as his choice of partner.”
Her approach to a potential emotional landmine paid off. Her daughters, now happy, well-adjusted adults, enjoy a loving, close relationship with both parents. “I hope it taught them to take the high road. I hope they learned that nice counts. I guess I kind of hoped it would elevate me in their eyes, that Mom didn’t ‘diss’ anyone.”
She adds: “I always tried to teach them that you can find good in most everyone, but sometimes you have to search for it.”