Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Transitioning with Children Following Divorce

By Jeff Katowitz, LMFT

       When two people divorce it can be a difficult process both emotionally and financially in making an adjustment to a new way a living. Through a shift in life style, never ending schedule changes and negotiations if there are children, and seeking a predicable flow and consistency in routines can be very challenging.  Many parents attempt to create a new family too quickly and are motivated out of a desire to put back together or establish an image of a family from one that had been broken. Parents, however, need to engage in a process of their own healing and reflect regarding what had transpired in their previous marriage or relationship first prior to establishing new relationships. Awareness is the key here, where many parents tend to find themselves feeling lost, trapped by their own pain and may seek refuge in a new relationship to cover over quickly the negative experiences that they had in their marriage.

      But what about the children of these divorcing couples. It is not within their control to pick a new partner for their parents (although some have a great deal of influence in this process). They too may have a similar need for normalcy and predictability but their parents’ judgment and timing of their decisions may be in question. Some children may carry and harbor resentment toward one or both parents for their decision to divorce. They struggle with their own feelings of abandonment and many feel that no one has considered the impact that the divorce has had on their lives.  It is therefore critical to assess how their children are transitioning and may need to work towards developing or reestablishing trust with their children if it has been compromised. But how do parents initiate a process in which they help their children feel acknowledged and cared for?  Parents seem stuck in a quagmire - between their own sense of entitlement and desire or need to transition out of an unfulfilling relationship and the guilt over hurting their children and not knowing what the most appropriate next step should be.

    Depending on the circumstances and the ages of the children parents may want to consider engaging them in an open discussion - asking for feedback and opinions regarding what had transpired specifically relating to the divorce. Many parents are unaware of how to gauge where their children are emotionally following a divorce and make assumptions about how their children feel. Without a clear understanding directly from their children parents may experience resistance and a great deal of conflict in their relationship with their children. From experience in treating very complex family systems and those transitioning through divorce and healing post divorce I have found that those parents who show compassion and patience with their children regarding the pace of their transition receive positive results.   It is not uncommon to hear children openly articulate that they want to “see their parents happy” and this suggests that they have made a shift towards letting go of past pain and resentments – they can now see more clearly of what is in the best interest of not only themselves but also of their parents. Those children who have been permitted and encouraged to draw their own conclusions are not only able to think about what will make them happy but also able to think about their parents’ happiness. It is also a strong indicator that their needs are being met and that they have been able to transition through a difficult chapter in their lives by forgiving their parents for the decisions that they have made.

Jeff Katowitz, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist providing individual, couples, family counseling. Specialties include adolescent development, separation, divorce, adoption, and blended families. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call Jeff at 215-307-0055 or email him at jpkatowitz@verizon.net.

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