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Helping Your Kids Through Divorce

Building a Relationship with Your New Teenage Stepchildren

Child Custody: Building Parenting Agreements that Work

The Best Parent is Both Parents: A Guide to Shared Parenting in the 21st Century


by Stephanie Marston

How do you develop a positive relationship with a former spouse? This may be the last thing you feel like doing, but if children are involved itĦs important to learn how to cooperate. You donĦt have to be friends with--or even like your ex-spouse. You do need to make a mutual commitment to lay down your weapons of destruction for the childrenĦs sake.


You canĦt change what happened between you and your ex, but you can change your attitude. And to do that you will have to practice forgiveness. This doesnĦt necessarily mean that you are acknowledging that whatever your ex did was right. It just means you donĦt want to hold a grudge any longer. You want to put the past behind you.



Unfortunately the media have painted a very negative picture of the impact on children and families breaking up. The Judith Wallerstein study, which describes a generation of children as permanently scarred by divorce, has been widely discussed on TV talk shows and the press. But such reports donĦt take into account the fact that childrenĦs responses to divorce vary widely. A study from Tufts University, for example, found that the social behavior of children from both divorced and intact families seems to be related to how the parents cope with conflict and whether they can cooperate as parents. When parents can move beyond their anger, resentment and blame, their children are in a much better position to come through a divorce well adjusted.


The fact is children are resilient and they can grow up happy, healthy and well adjusted in divorced homes. However some basic conditions must be met in order for this to happen:


*      Children must feel free to love both parents.

*      Children need access to both parents without being placed in loyalty conflicts.

*      Parents need to rebuild their lives after a divorce and shift their roles to parenting partners.




The first step is to separate how you feel about your former spouse as a marriage partner from how you feel about him or her as a parent. Business people, for example, donĦt have to like each other to have a successful relationship. But certain guidelines are followed. These guidelines can also apply to your dealings with your ex-spouse: communicate clearly, act courteously, offer a minimum of self-disclosure, and take responsibility for your own actions.


*      How you feel about the other parent is less important than how you act toward him or her. You may not like your ex-spouse, but try to say positive things about him or her in front of your kids.

*      Respect your mutual need for privacy. DonĦt go into the other parentĦs house without permission or an invitation. Keep the details of your personal life to yourself. The only information you need to communicate should pertain to your children.

*      Each parentĦs time with the children is sacred. DonĦt make other plans or change plans on your former spouseĦs time.

*      Acknowledge what the other parent has to offer to your children and keep in mind that each parent has the right to develop his or her own parenting style even though it is different from yours. As long as no harm is being done to your children (no neglect, no emotional, physical, or sexual abuse) the other parent can relate to the children as he or she sees fit. The more you allow your ex-spouse to develop a personal parenting style the more involved and responsible he or she will be.

*      Bear in mind that timing may be an issue. Parents often donĦt agree at the same time to build a parenting partnership. One person usually takes the initiative while the other tries to hang on to old ways. Expect to feel uncomfortable at first about relating to your ex-spouse in a more formal manner. There may be a gap between how you feel and how you act, but as with any new skill you will get better with practice.


(adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)

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