Divorce touches thousands ofpeople each year, especially in Alberta,where the divorce rate of 46 per centis five percentage points higher thanthe national average.
For children, divorce can be devastatingif their parents don’t set their differencesaside and learn how to co-parent.
Co-parenting is based on understandingthe effects of divorce on your childrenand communicating effectively withyour former spouse to raise them.
You may often feel you’re all aloneif your marriage is ending, but manyoptions can help you navigate throughdivorce. What they have in common isadvice on how to keep your children’swell-being front and centre, no matterhow you and your ex-spouse feel abouteach other.
One such program is EffectiveCo-Parenting: Putting Kids First.
This 18-hour course aims to increasechildren’s resiliency during separationand divorce by encouraging parentsto collaborate to put their children first.
Based on research that connects parents’behaviour to children’s future healthand well-being, the program offers skillstraining, resources and support forseparated 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 relaymessages to your spouse
• Don’t make your kids choosefavourites
• Don’t use your child as a confidante
• Communicate amicably with eachother, especially in front of your kids
• Commit to co-parenting
• Keep your children’s routines
• Let your child’s teachers knowwhat’s happening so they can betterunderstand your child’s situation.
Parents need to watch their childrenfor symptoms of stress, which varydepending on age, says Hansen.
Five-year-olds may become withdrawn,depressed or hit other children. Sometimes they deny what’s going on or blamethemselves. Their sleep patterns maychange and they may start bedwettingor have stomach aches or headaches.
Ten-year-olds’ language skills aremore developed, so they’ll often havemore questions than younger children.
Avoid giving children more informationthan they ask for. Simply explain thatyou and your spouse are not gettingalong and emphasize, to children ofany age, that it’s not their fault andyou 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
Although importantto children at any age, co-parentingis even more important for youngerchildren. Research shows that “divorcein a baby’s first year is a neuro-biologicalrisk factor,” says Evelyn Wotherspoon, anearly childhood mental health consultantin Alberta who specializes in high-conflictdivorce and child trauma.
“Parents have the idea that childrenunder three aren’t affected by divorce,but in fact they’re more vulnerablebecause of the brain development”that’s so important in the early years,Wotherspoon says.
Babies have evolved to be highlysensitive to non-verbal cues of distressin others because that keeps them safe,Wotherspoon says. “So when the parentsare 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