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Six Simple Steps Toward Meeting the Needs of Children in Divorce

When two powerful forces collide it is those caught between who suffer; whether the conflict is between political parties, nation or a family. Sometimes the collision just pinches those caught in the middle. Often it can annihilate those who can’t get out of the way.
Even in the best of divorce and separation situations children experience some degree of suffering. I know my son did, when his mother and I parted ways shortly after his seventh birthday. I was shocked to find that as a 24 year-old adult I experienced a surprising amount of pain when my parents ended their almost 30-year marriage.
In my practice as a counselor I see kids every day weathering some degree of pain related to their parents’ separation or divorce. I also find many parents assume their children will “adapt” to the family break-up. There is, with many adults, a rather ego-centric assumption that because the divorce is desired by one or both parents that the children will just fall into place. While children – even within the same family – vary in their reactions to divorce, it is safe to assume that each kid is negatively impacted to some degree.
The task for parents is to craft a way to make the end of the marriage and transition to some new definition of family as safe and nurturing as possible.
I do not think all marriages can – or even should – be saved. I also know that as painful and disorienting as a divorce may be to children the benefits of divorce can outweigh the emotional wreckage of parents remaining in a cold, loveless or abusive marriage. But, as I point out to divorcing parents, while your role of spouse may have evaporated, you will always be in the role of parent and you must find a way to forge a new kind of relationship with the other parent to meet the material and emotional needs of the children. It really needs to become a kind of “business relationship” with the business, of course, being the children.
In recent months I have been giving some of my clients a wonderful article from the May/June 2008 issue of “Psychotherapy Networker” by psychotherapist Ashley Davis  Prend entitled “Divorcing Well: Bringing Buddhist Practice to Divorce Counseling”. In it, Ms. Prend outlines six steps based upon Buddhist teachings that can help divorced parents create a healthy ongoing relationship with the other parent of their children. You don’t need to be Buddhist to benefit from the following teachings, though a dose of common sense will help:
Accept the way things are. Change is hard and the change of divorce is a kind of death. It is normal to resist or resent change, especially if it is forced upon us. Coming to an acceptance of changed reality involves letting go of the old so – like a trapeze artist stretching out for the next trapeze bar – we can grab life’s next stage.
Choose the road less traveled. After the inevitably conflicted and strained legal stages of separation it is important for parents to keep the long-term, best interests of the child in mind. This may well call for letting things roll off your back and work to develop new ways of dealing with your ex-spouse.
See the big picture. I would also add, “Take the long view”. There are few more stressful life events than a divorce, but remembering it is a chapter in a long life can help reduce immediate feelings of loss or need to get even. While the marriage may not have worked out, remembering the gift of the children from that union and putting your focus there and what those children will need in the years ahead can alter perspective of the moment.
Listen to silence. Staying centered and upright in the midst of an emotional hurricane is no easy matter. But taking the time for quiet meditation or prayer can provide the kind of daily refuge needed to deal with change.
Give generously.  No doubt, the thought of giving anything to someone you feel has hurt or betrayed you isn’t easy. There is generosity beyond the material; generosity of time, respect and care benefit both the recipient and the giver.
Strive for enlightenment. The natural and universal connection to all things in existence is a core teaching of Buddhism and an obvious fact when we take the time to ponder the nature of reality and life. Remembering the active, never-ending connection of parents to their children can be a starting point to discovery of a new family relationship that can benefit children whether or not their parents are married.

When two powerful forces collide it is those caught between who suffer; whether the conflict is between political parties, nation or a family. Sometimes the collision just pinches those caught in the middle. Often it can annihilate those who can’t get out of the way. Even in the best of divorce and separation situations children experience some degree of suffering. I know my son did, when his mother and I parted ways shortly after his seventh birthday. I was shocked to find that as a 24 year-old adult I experienced a surprising amount of pain when my parents ended their almost 30-year marriage. In my practice as a counselor I see kids every day weathering some degree of pain related to their parents’ separation or divorce. I also find many parents assume their children will “adapt” to the family break-up. There is, with many adults, a rather ego-centric assumption that because the divorce is desired by one or both parents that the children will just fall into place. While children – even within the same family – vary in their reactions to divorce, it is safe to assume that each kid is negatively impacted to some degree. The task for parents is to craft a way to make the end of the marriage and transition to some new definition of family as safe and nurturing as possible. I do not think all marriages can – or even should – be saved. I also know that as painful and disorienting as a divorce may be to children the benefits of divorce can outweigh the emotional wreckage of parents remaining in a cold, loveless or abusive marriage. But, as I point out to divorcing parents, while your role of spouse may have evaporated, you will always be in the role of parent and you must find a way to forge a new kind of relationship with the other parent to meet the material and emotional needs of the children. It really needs to become a kind of “business relationship” with the business, of course, being the children.  In recent months I have been giving some of my clients a wonderful article from the May/June 2008 issue of “Psychotherapy Networker” by psychotherapist Ashley Davis  Prend entitled “Divorcing Well: Bringing Buddhist Practice to Divorce Counseling”. In it, Ms. Prend outlines six steps based upon Buddhist teachings that can help divorced parents create a healthy ongoing relationship with the other parent of their children. You don’t need to be Buddhist to benefit from the following teachings, though a dose of common sense will help:Accept the way things are. Change is hard and the change of divorce is a kind of death. It is normal to resist or resent change, especially if it is forced upon us. Coming to an acceptance of changed reality involves letting go of the old so – like a trapeze artist stretching out for the next trapeze bar – we can grab life’s next stage.Choose the road less traveled. After the inevitably conflicted and strained legal stages of separation it is important for parents to keep the long-term, best interests of the child in mind. This may well call for letting things roll off your back and work to develop new ways of dealing with your ex-spouse.See the big picture. I would also add, “Take the long view”. There are few more stressful life events than a divorce, but remembering it is a chapter in a long life can help reduce immediate feelings of loss or need to get even. While the marriage may not have worked out, remembering the gift of the children from that union and putting your focus there and what those children will need in the years ahead can alter perspective of the moment.Listen to silence. Staying centered and upright in the midst of an emotional hurricane is no easy matter. But taking the time for quiet meditation or prayer can provide the kind of daily refuge needed to deal with change.Give generously.  No doubt, the thought of giving anything to someone you feel has hurt or betrayed you isn’t easy. There is generosity beyond the material; generosity of time, respect and care benefit both the recipient and the giver.Strive for enlightenment. The natural and universal connection to all things in existence is a core teaching of Buddhism and an obvious fact when we take the time to ponder the nature of reality and life. Remembering the active, never-ending connection of parents to their children can be a starting point to discovery of a new family relationship that can benefit children whether or not their parents are married.


Mark L. Taylor MA LPC SAC is a Wisconsin licensed counselor who works extensively with adolescents and their families. He also founded the RoundRiver Institute LLC, a learning center near Genoa, WI. Permission is granted for personal use of this material. If you pass it on to other individuals please include a link back to this page. If you wish to use it in a newsletter or publication please contact Mark at: http://www.round-river2000.com

© Mark L. Taylor and RoundRiver Institute LLC