Dear Ann Landers,
I just read a terrific booklet entitled "Stepping Back From Anger." The booklet was printed by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to help parents protect their children from some of the harmful effects of divorce. Here is an excerpt:
Every year, more than 1 million American couples get divorced. For those men and women, it is often the most emotionally exhausting and expensive experience they will ever have. For their children, it can be even worse.
Imagine you are 6 years old, and suddenly, the two people you have always relied on most are at each other's throats. You believe you are the cause of their anger. To make matters worse, you find yourself alone and bewildered because the two people you usually go to for comfort are too wrapped up in their own anger and grief to be of much help.
Divorce makes its mark on children both in the short term and the long term. Young children whose parents are divorcing often suffer from depression, sleep disorders, loss of self-esteem, poor academic performance, behavioral regression and a host of other physical and emotional disorders.
Long after the divorce is final, children of divorce often have trouble entering into committed relationships of their own, fearing their relationships will end as their parents' did. In addition, a Princeton University study showed that children who live apart from one of their parents are more likely to drop out of school, become unmotivated and have a child before reaching the age of 20.
Here are 10 tips for divorcing parents:
1. Never disparage your former spouse in front of your children. Because children know they are "part Mom" and "part Dad," the criticism can batter the child's self-esteem.
2. Do not use your children as messengers between you and your former spouse. The less the children feel a part of the battle between their parents, the better.
3. Reassure your children that they are loved and that the divorce is not their fault.
4. Unless your former spouse was a molester, encourage your children to spend time with him or her. Do everything you can to accommodate the visitation.
5. At every step during your divorce, remind yourself that your children's interests, not yours, are paramount, and act accordingly.
6. Resist the temptation to let your children act as your caretakers. Let your peers, adult family members and mental health professionals be your counselors and sounding boards.
7. If you have a drinking or drug problem, get counseling right away. An impairment inhibits your ability to reassure your children and give them the attention they need at this difficult time.
8. If you are the non-custodial parent, pay your child support. The loss of income facing many children after divorce puts them at a disadvantage that has a pervasive effect on the rest of their lives.
9. If you are the custodial parent and are not receiving child support, do not complain to your children. It feeds into their sense of abandonment and further erodes their stability.
10. If at all possible, do not uproot your children. Stability in their residence and school life helps buffer children from the trauma of their parents' divorce.
For a free copy of this booklet, write to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1420, Chicago, Ill. 60601, or visit www.aaml.org.