You might be going through a low-impact “no-yelling” type of divorce, but it can still have far reaching effects on your children.
Low Impact Divorce and High Conflict Marriages
Low impact divorce can be defined as one in which there is little yelling or conflict. While the media tends to display divorce and the process as divorce as one that is highly reactive with a lot of yelling and tears, most divorces are actually low impact where parents speak calmly and rationally during their decision to terminate a marriage. Low impact divorces are often the way that low-conflict marriages are dissolved.
High conflict marriages are then, understandably, ones in which both parents fight often and in a way that the rest of the family is aware of conflict.
“About 55 percent to 60 percent of divorces occur in low-conflict marriages,” according to Dr. Amato from Penn State, who has studied family structure for 20 years.
We would assume that a marriage that ends without arguing an heated debates would be more beneficial to a child experiencing divorce. But Dr. Amato feels differently. His argument is that a divorce that ends a high-conflict marriage “often results in beneficial effects for the children, while the dissolution of a low-conflict marriage is more likely to have a negative effect.”
Dr. Amato and Alan Booth studied 2,000 married people and 700 children. What it found was that children that showed the highest levels of anxiety and depression either had low-conflict parents who divorced or high-conflict parents who remained together.
For children who are exposed to marriages of high conflict, a divorce can feel like a welcome escape from a dysfunctional family life. While children from low-conflict marriages that go through low-conflict divorces can feel confused about the reason for divorce. If everything has always appeared “okay,” then why are their parents divorcing? “From the child’s perspective, there is no evidence that anything is drastically wrong,” says Dr. Booth. “It is an unexpected, uncontrollable and unwelcome event where one parent leaves the home and the other is overwhelmed with the demands of single parenthood and a lowered standard of living.”
Regardless of the type of marriage you have, whether low or high conflict, or the type of divorce you are going through, both parents will need to understand that their actions have impact on the children. Most importantly, both parents will need to be able to create a successful co-parenting relationship that will benefit the children involved.
Creating a Co-Parenting Relationship
When two people decide it’s time to end their marriage, it’s often the child or the children they share that take it the hardest. When it comes to learning how to co-parent, division of assets, and determining alimony can seem like cake. Co-parenting is completely new terrain, and you might need to do a little research and soul-searching to determine how to approach this new life.
If you and your ex-spouse share children, you’re going to need to learn how to co-parent. And you’re going to need to learn how to co-parent WITH your ex. This means putting your child’s best interests above your own and forging an amicable relationship with your ex. You two don’t need to be best friends, you just need to find a way to make this relationship work..
First Step: Realize You Can Only Control You
You have no power over your ex-spouse, so don’t even try. If you are able to accept this, and thus control your own actions and emotions, you will be able to take the high road. You can only hope this method of leading by example will catch on.
Create a successful co-parenting relationship by setting boundaries. Here are some do’s and don’t’s.
- Sabotage your child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Use your child as a pawn to get back at or hurt your ex.
- Allow your child to speak badly about the other parent.
- Use your child to gain information or to manipulate and/or influence your ex.
- Transfer hurt feelings and/or frustrations toward your ex onto your child.
- Force your child to choose a side when there is a conflict with scheduling.
- Turn the pressure on your child.
- Depend too much on your child for companionship or support because you are dealing with your divorce. Your child is not your therapist.
- Become so emotionally needy that your child starts to feel guilty if they spend time with others. You would hate to find out they turned down social outings because they were afraid you wouldn’t be able to handle alone time.
Bottom line: Do not burden your children with situations they are not able to control. Your emotional needs and issues should not be something they need to bear. This will only promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity which will, in turn, cause them to question their own strengths and abilities. They should not feel as if it’s their responsibility to hold you together. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems, nor should they have to. They should be allowed to focus on their own developmental stages.
- Sit down with your ex to create an an affirmative plan that sets aside differences you may have. The focus should be on meeting the needs of the children you are co-parenting.
- Negotiate how you will handle visitation, holidays, and events.
- Create behavioral guidelines for raising your children that you will each adhere to. There should be some form of consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they’re with. This means bed-times, phone privileges, etc… Know that a child will often test a situation and manipulate boundaries. Be prepared to stay strong.
- Negotiate the roles of extended family members.
- Establish lines of open communication regarding all aspects of your child’s development. This includes being able to compare notes on a situation before deciding on punishment.
- While it can be emotionally painful, you and your co-parent need to decide that you will keep each other informed about changes in your life circumstances. The child should never be your primary source of information.
- Commit to conducting yourself with emotional integrity.
What a Child Needs Most
These are the things your child needs most during this time: acceptance, assurance of safety, structure, freedom from guilt or blame for their parents’ break up, two stable parents, and the ability to just have fun and be a kid.
Some Additional Tips to Co-Parenting
Setting up ground rules is important. There are some other additional tips that you might want to consider.
Be friendly when you are all together. You and your co-parent share a child, or multiple children. These children will grow and experience different things: sporting events, graduations, birthdays, parent-teacher conferences, etc… at some point, during one of these occasions, you’re all going to have to be in the same location. So be friendly! This will make it easier for everyone – you, the co-parent, and your child. Say hello to each other. Maybe chat about what you were going to say in the next email or text. If you have to fake it to make it, then so be it. Bottom line: be an adult. This includes stepparents, friends and other family members. Kids are observant, which means they will pick up on if you’re being rude or awkward. They’ll also pick up on you acting like the adult you’re supposed to be.
Say thank you. Say thank you when you ask for a favor and your co-parent follows through. This could mean a schedule change or event date request. If you’re stuck in traffic and need the other parent to pick up your child at the last minute. Regardless of the situation, a thank you goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be big. A verbal “thank you” works. And if you can’t do that, then send it in a text.
Return phone calls, texts, emails. Even if these communications don’t require an answer, just text back “ok.” Email back “ok.” Call back and say “ok.” It’s helpful and important that you acknowledge that you received their message. It’s respectful, but also a great way to make sure that both parties know the information was received.
It actually is the other parent’s business to know that someone besides yourself is watching your child. Your co-parent has every right to know who their child is with, if he or she is not with you. This doesn’t need to be anything intense. If you’re having a neighbor watch your son while you run to the grocery store, chances are you don’t need to tell your co-parent. But don’t deny their question if they ask. Saying it’s “not their business” is actually completely ridiculous. As their co-parent, they have a right to know everything about their child, just as you do.
Ask their opinion. Asking for the other parent’s input can help foster a positive (or at least a sometimes positive) co-parenting relationship over the course of time. As a co-parent they have a right to provide their opinion, even if it’s something you, for sure, will not be following. You never know, they also might surprise you!
Emotional guidelines are important, but so are the defined aspects of a co-parenting partnership. This means a schedule – not just a weekly schedule, but also one that outlines holidays and events. These things should be agreed to far in advance. For example: which parent has the child for Christmas should be decided months in advance to avoid fighting on Christmas Eve. These agreements can be informal, but just remember that something set in stone is harder to argue against. There are numerous online tools you can use to help create a co-parenting schedule.
Set arrangements are important, but remember to be sensitive to your child. If he or she is having a night where they just really want to be with dad, instead of mom, then maybe it’s okay for dad to take the night. This is a hard time for kids to adapt. Encourage your kids to be honest with their emotions. You’ll want to be sensitive to their emotions, which can often mean putting your emotions aside.
Creating a Co-Parenting Relationship
Creating a co-parenting relationship can be difficult. You might decide that working with a mediator is the best way to find an agreement. Over time, and once you have set up some ground rules for yourself, and for how the relationship will be maintained, it should become easier. A set schedule, but also being flexible will help you get to the “easier” moments. And just as there will be easy moments, there will also be times when it feels almost impossible. Finding a co-parenting balance will help you to become a better person, while also providing a good example to your children. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future. The number one thing you both need to do is ensure that the child’s best interests are number one priority.