Dos And Don'ts -- Guidelines for Divorced Parents

by Christina McGhee

Here is a handy list of dos and don'ts that can help you and your children get through your divorce.

The Dos

Do love your children as much as possible. Show them your love through words and actions.

Do tell your children divorce is not their fault. Tell your children this repeatedly, they need to hear it more than once.

Do reassure your children that they will be safe. And let them know both parents will continue to provide for them to the best of their ability.

Do let your children know it is okay to love both Mom and Dad as they did before the divorce. Let kids know the love they have for both parents doesn't have to change.

Do support your children's relationship with their other parent. Inform the other parent of special events, school functions or extracurricular activities whenever possible.

Do listen to your children. Honor their feelings without judging, fixing or trying to change how they feel. Remember, your childrens' feelings don't have to reflect your feelings.

Do let children know it is okay to express those feelings. Remember your children will need help learning safe and healthy ways to express their feelings. Be sure to provide them with appropriate options.

Do reinforce that children are members of two homes. Children should not be made to feel guilty or as if they have to choose which is their "real" or "better" home.

Do help children feel like they have a home with both parents regardless of the amount of time spent with each parent. Make sure children feel they have a place in each home that belongs to them even if it is only a section of a room. Giving children the opportunity to offer input or add their own touches to their space can be helpful.

Do provide your children with discipline, as well as love. Children still need parents to provide structure and limits especially during difficult times.

The Don'ts

Don't badmouth, judge or criticize your child's other parent. Children literally view themselves as half Mom and half Dad therefore when you attack the other parent you attack your child. This rule also applies to stepparents and other significant adults in your child's life.

Don't expose your children to divorce details. Rarely is it ever in the best interest of children to be exposed to information regarding court matters, child support, financial concerns or intimate details regarding your divorce Typically children feel very confused and caught in the middle when parents expose them to adult issues.

Don't use your children as messengers or spies. Be responsible for finding some way to communicate with your ex-spouse.

Don't retaliate when the other parent says or does damaging things. Retaliation or giving children "your side of the story" continues the cycle of children feeling very confused and caught between mom and dad. Instead choose to be supportive of your children by using statements such as "I'm sorry you had to hear that," or "How do you feel when this happens?"

Don't make your children responsible for making adult decisions. Children should not be place in the position of deciding parenting schedules, where they will live or how to handle household matters.

Don't allow your children to become your best friends or confidants. Children should not feel responsible for their parent's emotional well being. Make sure you develop a supportive network and find other caring adults to share your feelings with about the divorce.

Don't place blame when children ask why the divorce happened. Children should not be placed in the position of judging or taking sides.

Don't withhold visitation if child support is unpaid or fail to pay child support if the other parent is withholding visitation. Both actions are illegal and are viewed as separate issues by the court.

Don't try to buy your child's love or out buy the other parent. While children enjoy gifts, they will remember you for how you cherished them not for the material things you bought them.

Don't lose your sense of humor. It comes in handy during stressful times.