Parenting after Divorce with Children

Parenting is hard!  It’s hard when you and the other parent live in the same house and even harder if you are divorced or you have never been married. Parenting after Divorce with Children is really really hard. I recently came across a great article that highlights the 10 best parenting strategies for happier, healthier and better functioning children based on 2000 parents and how a group of independent parenting experts rated these strategies.  They compared what experts advise, what really seems to work and what parents actually do.

For the last 50 years, we have been studying parenting and many independent scientific studies have identified the most effective skill sets or competencies associated with better parent-child relationships, leading to a stronger bond and healthier, happier, and better functioning children (Epstein, 2010).

Here are the top 10 competencies, in order, that the research demonstrated to be predictors of a strong parent-child bond, children’s happiness, health and success (Fox, 2O11)

1. Love and Affection: Giving love and affection tops the list as the parenting skill associated with the most happiness in children.  The best thing we can do for our children is to give them lots of physical affection, quality time, support, love and acceptance. 

The challenge for separated parents: Since separated parents may not have daily contact with their child/children, it may be harder for them to express love and affection as frequently as parents who always live in the same household with their children. Nevertheless, the more love and affection the better your relationship will likely be and the easier time you may have parenting your children.

2. Stress Management: Interestingly, it was found that the parents’ ability to manage stress was second only to love and affection as a predictor of the quality of their relationship with their kids and how happy their children were.  This includes employing regular stress reduction techniques for yourself and your children, and by modeling a positive outlook on life.  When parents are under stress, the brain redirects resources from the prefrontal cortex to the more primitive brain systems.  These over reactive limbic stress responses keep parents locked into less rational, defensive, and less empathic reactions and limits reactions needed for self-reflection and calm emotional regulation.(Levy, and Orlans (2006)

The challenge for separated parents: Going through a divorce or family court case can be very stressful and can have a negative impact on your ability to parent. Get help! Get counseling, gather your friends and advisors, do whatever you can to positively relieve stress. Children have stress every day, we can model stress management during challenging times and improve our relationship with our children.

3. Relationship Skills: Another top, yet indirect, prediction of good outcomes for children is a parent maintaining a good relationship with the other parent – how you treat your partner, significant other, or co-parent.  Maintaining a healthy relationship with an ex is particularly helpful.  Children inherently want their parents to get along and suffer when they don’t.  Children are uncomfortable with conflict, especially when it involves parents.  Modeling effective relationship skills is also very helpful.  It is important not to argue in front of children and to apologize and forgive in front of them.  Also, speak kindly of the co-parent.  This is particularly crucial for children who have a tendency to triangulate or split one parent against the other.  How you treat your spouse, or ex, is being observed and filed away.  This becomes their model for operating in intimate relationships in the future.

The challenge for separated parents: Uh oh. This may be the most challenging factor for separated parents. Children inherently want their parents to get along and suffer when they don’t. If you and your ex do not have a good relationship, try counseling or co-parenting classes. This is not for your benefit or the benefit of your ex, it is for the benefit of your children. Keep negative comments and opinions to yourself. Your child only gets one set of parents, please protect their relationship with both.

4. Autonomy and Independence: Our relationship with our parents provides the solid foundation in which to discover our independence.  Mature and loving parents create a safe environment in which children can freely express themselves.  Stable families can handle the stress of “letting go” and can tolerate their child’s autonomy.  They encourage exploration of the environment, allow mistakes, and permit disagreement.  Healthy family systems promote both connection and individuality, accountability and independence.  Unhealthy family systems discourage individuality and promote dependence.  They interpret individual differences as an attack on their authority.  They undermine healthy development by reinforcing dependency and helplessness.  Because of the parents’ high levels of anxiety, stress, and need for control, individual expression is discouraged.  Children are taught to conform to their parents’ wishes and desires.  Personal boundaries (where I stop and you start) are vague.  These children are needy or “pseudo independent.”  They act independent on the surface, but are deeply dependent underneath

The challenge for separated parents: The key here is creating safe and stable environments for your children. Routines can be particularly helpful in creating stability and safety. If you are transitioning to two households or your have been co-parenting in two households for a long time, consider have structured routines and expectations to help promote independence, allow for mistakes and encourage healthy disagreement.

5. Education and Learning: Research has found that neither race nor ethnicity seems to be a major factor contributing to parenting competency.  Women appear only a fraction better at parenting than men.  Gays and heterosexuals are also about equal in their parenting ability.  One characteristic that does appear to make a difference is education.  Generally, the more education, the better the parenting.  This might be attributed to the fact that better educated people work harder to improve their parenting skills through parent education programs.

The challenge for separated parents: If you are wondering whether or not to go back to school, consider the benefits to your children. Seeking out education related to parenting or other subjects will likely make you a better parent and produce better outcomes for your children.

6. Life Skills: You provide for you child, have a steady income and have a plan for the future.  Model responsibility, self-motivation, communication and anger management skills.

The challenge for separated parents: If you are in transition or struggling to plan for the future, consider a life coach or support group. The overarching theme here is that the better you take care of yourself and the better your life skills, the better the outcome for your children.

7. Behavior Management: Popular behavior management techniques, such as those advocated by pioneering behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner, use positive reinforcement for good behavior and punish negative behavior when other methods of managing behavior fail.  New research has shown that behavior management techniques ranked low and were a poor predictor of good outcomes with children.  Parents scored relatively poorly in this skill area.  In the world consequences are natural results, outcomes that occur predictably, as a consequence of what has occurred.  Retribution or punishment are not natural occurrences in nature.  When parents are under stress they are more likely to over react in a punitive manner, which further alienates their children.  Punishment has not proven to be an effective method for managing children.  Positive reinforcement can also fail with children with negative self-esteem who feel that they don’t deserve rewards and sabotage success.  They believe that they deserve to be punished which just reinforces their negative beliefs. (Orlans and Levy, 2011)

The challenge for separated parents: Well isn’t this interesting! With all of the talk of consistent boundaries, it seems that overall parent well-being; physically, emotionally and spiritually, seems to have a much bigger impact on your children than whether or not you punish bad behavior or reward the behavior you want. Focus on your health and your relationship with your kids. The rest will figure itself out.

8. Health: Parents want to model a healthy life style and good habits such as regular exercise and proper nutrition.

9. The challenge for separated parents: Separated parents have less time and more work. Instead of dividing household duties between two people, the entire brunt of the responsibility falls on one parent, making it even more difficult to exercise, shop and cook home made meals. Consider partnering with friends or family to make nutrition and exercise a family affair and a priority for everyone in the family.

Religion: Support spiritual or religious development.  Participate in traditions and activities that promote ethical convictions, responding to the needs of others and encourage respect, tolerance, fairness and honesty.  Model acting in right and honorable ways and instill a belief in something greater than ourselves.

The challenge for separated parents: It can be difficult to raise a child in a church or religion that both parents don’t share. Most often, each parent is allowed to promote whatever religion they choose during their parenting time. The research suggests more religion is better than none.

9.1. Safety: Take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness and interests in their friends and activities.

The challenge for separated parents: There is a reason this is number 10 on the list. If you are doing number 1-9, 10 seems to take care of itself. Stock your fridge, try and tolerate the mess. The best way you can monitor your child’s safety is by keeping them close.

Modern Law is committed to helping families and supporting parents through transitions. If you have any questions or comments on the above, give us a call today. 480-649-2905.