This is Part Three of a four-part series where I will briefly recommend appropriate behaviors for parents during separation, courtroom proceedings, and following divorce. All recommendations are based on my personal experience as an attorney focusing on family law as well as the enormous body of social science research devoted to studying the effects of divorce on children. Be sure to read Part One and Part Two of this series.
21. Encourage the children to remember the other parent on special occasions.
If the children are unable to purchase birthday cards, Father’s or Mother’s Day cards, or cards for special occasions without help, the parents should encourage and assist them as necessary to make sure these occasions are recognized. At a minimum, e-cards are free, and each child could choose one to send to a parent on a special occasion. Each parent needs to understand that the other parent would enjoy receiving recognition on special occasions just as much as he or she would, and that it is in the children’s best interest for the children to share in special occasions.
22. Use discretion as to the time and frequency of telephone calls to the children.
Parents must recognize that when their children are with the other parent, they will be involved in family time, quiet time, homework time, and other types of interaction. Frequent, unnecessary telephone calls can become intrusive and serve to agitate and aggravate the other parent and possibly the child. With children under six years of age, daily contact is desirable, with once per day being optimal. With children over six years of age, daily contact is not necessary but should be allowed if desired by the children. In this age group, two or three times per week is sufficient.
23. Recognize that children will feel powerless and helpless.
Children are subject to parents’ decisions about where they will live, with whom they will live, what school they will attend, what neighborhood they will live in, and who their friends will be, all with little consultation. If a judge is required to resolve conflicts between parents, some decisions will be made by a complete stranger. As a result, the children are likely to feel both powerless and helpless about the outcomes of their lives.
24. Be aware that children may feel insecure and exhibit regressive behavior.
Insecurity in children may occur for the same reasons identified above in no. 23. Insecurity can also be associated with concerns like, “Mom already left. How do I know Dad won’t leave, too?” It is not unusual for children to exhibit regressive behavior when under stress. This behavior could include returning to thumb sucking, bed wetting, whining, tantrums, or other similar behaviors. If such behavior continues for a relatively short period of time, this is not cause for concern. If it appears for more than one or two months, however, therapy may be warranted.
25. Provide an appropriate role model for the children.
Parents should recognize that the behavior they exhibit serves as a model for their children and actually teaches the children how to respond. Thus, parents who are excessively angry, overreactive, or depressed (or who exhibit other behavioral extremes) are likely to have children who are excessively angry, overreactive, or depressed.
26. Allow the children to see where the other parent is going to live after moving out of the house.
Children need to know that the parent who is leaving the house is having his or her primary needs met. This is done by showing the children that the departing parent will have a place to sleep, a place to eat, and a bathroom. By seeing this dwelling as soon as possible, children are assured that their parent has these necessities. It can also be helpful to the children to pack a few of the boxes for the departing parent and help that parent move those boxes.
27. Put aside differences with the other parent long enough to attend school conferences with the other parent.
When parents have a problem dealing with one another, it should not become the school’s problem. Some school districts offer only one teacher conference, and the parents must decide whether to attend together or designate one parent to attend. When school systems are willing to provide two separate conferences for the parents, it makes the parents’ problem the school’s problem. Parents must also recognize that when their behavior is inappropriate in school, it will reflect negatively on their children. Children need assurance that their parents are willing to put aside their differences for the benefit of their children. Doing so is a powerful statement to the children of how much the parents care about them.
28. Acknowledge and assist in the exercise of each parent’s right and responsibility to consult with school officials concerning the children’s welfare and education.
29. Acknowledge and assist in the exercise of each parent’s right and responsibility to receive, or have forwarded promptly from the other parent or school, copies of all school reports, calendar of school events, and notices of parent-teacher conferences. If the school offers online access to this information, access it.
30. Acknowledge and assist in the exercise of each parent’s right to be notified in case of a child’s serious illness or injury and each parent’s responsibility to respond to those important events.
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Matrimonial, Divorce and Family Law Attorney.