Earlier this year, a Toronto judge made the controversial decision to strip custody from a mother who spent a decade trying to alienate her three children from their father.
The decision was controversial not because a mother campaigned to vilify her ex-husband but because the family court is now acknowledging that forcing kids to choose sides and to alienate one parent is a form of abuse.
When parents are at war, it hurts a child emotionally, socially and physically and it also has a profound impact on their academic future. “To children, their parents are first and foremost their anchors, their source of security, “ social worker and child development expert Gary Direnfeld told Your Voice last year. “So as soon as you threaten that, there’s going to be nothing else on their mind. I’m amazed that children can concentrate at school in view of those fears.”
Peter Favaro has had over two decades of experience as a therapist working with sparring exes in the American family court system. He has seen thousands of parents so immersed in their own anger that they lose sight of their ultimate focus—their kids. He provides tips on how to rise above the anger and become good co-parents in his book, Smart Parenting During and After the Divorce. “Getting a divorce is sort of like hitting a kid over the head with a stick and the only thing you can do is control the size of the lump.” Favaro says. He has the following coping strategies for parents dealing with an ex and trying to co-parent through divorce:
- Less is more.
- Shut up when you are not sure that saying anything will do any good.
- Don’t add gasoline to fire. When your ex tries to provoke you, resist the urge to provoke back.
- Don’t look to get the last word.
- Don’t give your ex the opportunity to argue.
- When you are tempted to opt for quick relief, always ask yourself, “Is it worth hurting my kid over?”
And, it’s important to reassure your children and keep communication open. Together with Kids Help Phone, the TVOKids Hotline provided great support for kids dealing with divorce. Here are three tips given on the hotline to kids that you can repeat at home:
- Don’t blame yourself.
- There’s no need to choose between your parents.
- Speak up about your feelings.
For more, watch Your Voice: Caught in the Middle, Parenting Through Divorce.