Divorce touches thousands of
people each year, especially in Alberta,
where the divorce rate of 46 per cent
is five percentage points higher than
the national average.
For children, divorce can be devastating
if their parents don’t set their differences
aside and learn how to co-parent.
Co-parenting is based on understanding
the effects of divorce on your children
and communicating effectively with
your former spouse to raise them.
You may often feel you’re all alone
if your marriage is ending, but many
options can help you navigate through
divorce. What they have in common is
advice on how to keep your children’s
well-being front and centre, no matter
how you and your ex-spouse feel about
One such program is Effective
Co-Parenting: Putting Kids First.
This 18-hour course aims to increase
children’s resiliency during separation
and divorce by encouraging parents
to collaborate to put their children first.
Based on research that connects parents’
behaviour to children’s future health
and well-being, the program offers skills
training, resources and support for
separated or divorced parents.
In Edmonton, the program is offered
through The Family Centre. Program
facilitator Michael Hansen says a common
mistake divorcing parents make is letting
their personal feelings cloud their judg-
ment. They need to avoid behaviours
that are confusing, or even damaging,
to their children. Children are already
stressed over the breakup of their family,
he says. They might have to move to
another home, have less money than
they’re used to, have to change schools,
Hansen offers these tips for divorcing
• Don’t use your children to relay
messages to your spouse
• Don’t make your kids choose
• Don’t use your child as a confidante
• Communicate amicably with each
other, especially in front of your kids
• Commit to co-parenting
• Keep your children’s routines
• Let your child’s teachers know
what’s happening so they can better
understand your child’s situation.
Parents need to watch their children
for symptoms of stress, which vary
depending on age, says Hansen.
Five-year-olds may become withdrawn,
depressed or hit other children. Sometimes they deny what’s going on or blame
themselves. Their sleep patterns may
change and they may start bedwetting
or have stomach aches or headaches.
Ten-year-olds’ language skills are
more developed, so they’ll often have
more questions than younger children.
Avoid giving children more information
than they ask for. Simply explain that
you and your spouse are not getting
along and emphasize, to children of
any age, that it’s not their fault and
you both love them very much.
Teenagers may express anger by
criticizing their parents. Because of
teens’ capacity for language and their
mature appearance, some parents make
the mistake of treating them like adults
and confiding in them, says Hansen.
Another challenge for parents is
learning to talk to one another without
animosity, says Hansen. He recommends
a “communication book” they can pass
back and forth to relay information
about their children’s behaviours,
sports schedules and appointments.
Consistency, structure and routine
also go a long way toward easing a
child’s stress, Hansen says. This means
if bedtime is 9: 30 at one parent’s, it’s 9: 30
at the other’s or if the kids can’t watch
a racy sitcom at dad’s, it’s also off limits
at mom’s. Hansen says it’s important
for parents to back each other up on
to children at any age, co-parenting
is even more important for younger
children. Research shows that “divorce
in a baby’s first year is a neuro-biological
risk factor,” says Evelyn Wotherspoon, an
early childhood mental health consultant
in Alberta who specializes in high-conflict
divorce and child trauma.
“Parents have the idea that children
under three aren’t affected by divorce,
but in fact they’re more vulnerable
because of the brain development”
that’s so important in the early years,
Babies have evolved to be highly
sensitive to non-verbal cues of distress
in others because that keeps them safe,
Wotherspoon says. “So when the parents
are distressed, the baby is distressed.”
Many spouses see their marriages end,
but the need to raise their children together goes on.
Calgary writer Frankie Thornhill looks at where
and how divorcing parents can find the support
they need to put their kids first