Each summer, divorced parents face the challenge of managing summer visitations for their children. This can be a difficult time, especially if the divorce was less than amicable. However, children must feel a sense of security and confidence from both sides if they are to truly benefit from their time with the non-custodial parent.
Co-parents’ first priority must be their children’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and safety. If parents remember little else, always keep in mind your children love and miss the other parent deeply. Interference in that relationship will, in all likelihood, backfire later.
There are some basic tenets to navigating co-parenting that apply year round:
Divorce is difficult for children to understand
Divorce is difficult to understand often for adults. Divorce provokes many strong and negative emotions. Anger and distrust are two of the most intense emotions that accompany divorce. Children have an even more difficult time understanding why their parents’ divorce. Children, by nature, strive to understand complex emotional situations. Without support they can develop misconceptions and extreme emotions regarding their parents’ divorce. These emotions commonly include confusion, anger, sadness, jealousy, frustration, guilt and false hope that their parents will reunite.
Do not speak negatively about the other parents.
Having worked with children of divorce for many years, a consistent theme has become evident, the child is subject to one or both parents speaking negatively about the other parent. This becomes a significantly problematic situation for the child. Children often feel that they must side with one or the other parent. Or they feel that they cannot talk to either parent about good or bad experiences that occur at the other parent’s home, in order to keep the peace between parents or limit confrontation between parents. This puts a considerable amount of stress on a child.
Despite your intense feelings about your former spouse, DO NOT speak negatively about the other parent to your child or even within earshot of the child. Children are very perceptive and often overhear things that they shouldn’t. It is best to keep your negative feelings about the other parent to yourself or your adult friends and family. A therapist is also a good option if you feel that you are overwhelmed with negative emotions and need help processing such emotions.
Do not interrogate your child about the other parent.
Another common theme we continually hear from children of divorce is that one or both parents continually ask questions about the other parent and what the other parent is doing or who they are dating. It is natural to be curious, but it is not your child’s role to be the informant or the spy. This also puts stress on the child. Instead of being able to enjoy the time the child spends with you or your former spouse, they are trying to filter what they should “report” and what they should keep quiet about. Again, your child is not a spy or a double agent. Let your child talk on their own will about what is going on with the other parent or what they did while during their visit with the other parent.
Kimberly Wenz-Sherrill, LCSW
Sara Siner Darling, LMFT