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When Divorce Happens

Handling the difficult time

October 01, 2011
Divorce is a part of many children's lives. According to the Enrichment Journal on the divorce rates in America, the rate for a first marriage is 41 percent and the rate for a second marriage is 60 percent. Unfortunately, even in the most amicable situations the children may experience some adverse effects. However, the best thing that parents can do for their children is to handle the divorce as maturely and calmly as possible and take each child's individual needs into consideration.

One of the most important things divorcing parents can do for their children is to keep communications open and honest. Encourage them to express their feelings instead of keeping things bottled up. It is perfectly normal for a child to experience a range of emotions from sadness, to anger and even guilt.

"Listening is huge when it comes to children of divorce," said Alexa Griffith, a National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist who works at New Hope Counseling. Griffith uses play therapy to get children to open up.

"I use play and toys in order to help the children deal with their feelings. A lot of Kids don't have the vocabulary to express their feelings. If you sit them down on the couch and ask them direct questions, they're not going to know how to answer you," she said. "Developmentally the children are just not ready to have those sorts of conversations."

CenterPoint Counseling offers a program called New Day for families of divorce in which children ages 3 through 14 and their parents attend as a family. Dinner is served in a family setting, and then the children are split into age appropriate groups to discuss different issues they may be facing. Children learn to express themselves and their anger in healthy ways and are given a format where they feel comfortable talking about their feelings.

Parents also attend information meetings and/or support groups during this time. "We address all the issues," said Jennifer Murphy, coordinator of the New Day program. "One night the topic may be working with your ex and another night it might be about focusing on your children and the issues they are facing with the divorce."

For more information on New Day programs for families of divorce, visit newdayindy.org or call (317) 252-5518.

Another option for parents going through a divorce is mediation. Mediation is a process in which two individuals work together through a neutral party to rectify their differences and come to a mutual decision. "Mediation gives [couples] the opportunity to tell their whole story," said Lori Anne Perryman, a mediator at The Mediation Option, tmoindy.com.

"In a court room setting, there are certain rules that have to be followed. You don't always get the opportunity to express everything you would like to in court," she said.

Conversely, a mediation setting is less intimidating and more relaxed. Mediation areas are quiet and comfortable and individuals are not rushed and are allowed to take whatever time they need to work out any conflicts or differences. In addition, mediation services are often more cost effective than going through more traditional legal channels, although the agreements made are legally binding and enforceable.

Kena Hollingsworth, founding partner, Hollingsworth & Zivitz, agrees that mediation is often a viable option. "Mediation allows people to make their own decisions, rather than having decisions imposed on them by a court," she said.

Hollingsworth understands that divorce is a difficult time on people and their families. She shared some of the advice that she gives to her clients,"I advise my clients to try to take one day at a time, to wake up every morning and have a positive outlook on what the day will bring…basically just to have a better today than yesterday and to keep building from there."

Ryan Cassman has worked as an attorney for nine years and a mediator for two. He writes a popular blog called indianadivorceblog.com that contains a plethora of information and resources for divorcing parents. Cassman agrees that mediation and/or counseling or classes are a good idea for divorcing parents. "For most cases, mediation is a good option," he said. "And most counties do require a class."

Beyond the courtrooms and the counseling, there are obviously things parents can do on the home front to help their children adjust after a divorce. "Many things are just common sense," said Griffiths. "Try to work as a team. Obviously don't talk bad about the other parent. The child may feel like you're talking bad about him. And let the children have time to make the transition from one parent's home to the other. If the parents can take a moment to talk together, that would be ideal."

Most of all, don't be afraid to reach out for help. "Problems still exist whether you deal with them or not," said Griffiths. "A child needs somebody in their life who is not on anybody's 'side.' Who doesn't have a connection to either mom or dad. They may have a school counselor, a teacher or a minister. But most children don't have someone like that. That's the benefit of a therapist."

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Rebecca Todd is a freelance writer and the author of the book "What's the Point?" Visit her at rebeccatodd.wordpress.com.
Advice From our Readers:

"Kids come first. Too many [parents] put them in the middle, wrong, wrong, wrong."

-Angela M.

"I have been divorced for a long time but my children were young. I had always been very open with our plans for each day, whether we were going to the market or having friends over or baking cookies. I always explained what we were doing. Children also do best with consistency and a schedule."

-Becky M.

"The best thing is to keep civilized between both parents when you have children. You may not be together as parents anymore, but you will always have those little eyes looking up to you, so it is important to consistently set an example."

-John S.

Tags: In This Issue, Kids, Parenting

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