Parenting issues after divorce

Dating after family loss.

Many families suffer loss due to divorce or death and this can be especially hard on children. Children in who are still dependent on the parent for a home and care may feel very insecure. They may find it hard to accept when the single parent moves on and establishes a new relationship, especially if this happens before the child has fully integrated and accepted the huge change that has happened in the family. The parent-whether divorced or widowed-has an obligation to choose their dates with sensitivity. Once the family has a firm footing in accepting the loss, introducing a new person into the children’s lives can be an enriching experience, often filled with fun and awkward moments and may lead to a new step family. If you are a single parent moving again into the dating scene, here are a few questions, compiled by author Suzie Yehl Marta, to ask yourself, for the sake of your children, about your new date:

  • Do your children feel accepted by the new date? Does your date like children in general?
  • Does the person you are dating want to meet your children?
  • Children often resent a person who attempts to replace the absent parent early on. Does the person you date avoid disciplining your children? Setting rules and boundaries is not appropriate at this early stage.
  • Your date may feel jealous of the children or resent the relationship the children have with you. A person who has no children may not realise what parenting entails. Notice how your date reacts. Are they jealous of the time and energy you spend with your children, or are they flexible and understanding of the chaotic schedule that life with children sometimes entails?
  • Is your new partner willing to participate in family traditions and rituals that were established long before they entered the picture?
  • Children need nurture and help in many ways, not only fun things. Is your date willing to help your children with homework or any other task with which the kids need adult assistance or guidance?
  • Are they respectful towards your children?
  • Do they want to develop a relationship with your children?
  • Would they be willing to attend any of the children’s school functions?
  • Is your date willing to invite the children along when the two of you go out?
  • Are they courteous to your children rather than being negative, sarcastic, or putting them down?
  • When you are divorced, you and your ex will always be parents and have to work together for the good of the children. When you start dating, notice whether your date is able to respect your relationship with your child’s other family?
  • Are they patient with your children’s insecurities about their relationship with you?
  • How do they handle your children’s inappropriate behaviour towards them?
  • Do they understand the inherent difficulties of being a single parent?
  • Do they respect and honour your parental role and responsibilities?
  • Are they respectful to you, and do they treat you well?
  • Are they at all abusive – emotionally or physically?
  • Do they abuse drugs or alcohol?
  • Are they interested in working with you to strengthen your family unit?
  • Do they have children and, if so, how is their relationship with them?
  • Are they able to apologize or forgive when need arises?

Non – Residential Parenting.

Being a parent in a married household by its nature means that you are with your child on a daily basis. Yes, you may take holidays without them on be away on business trips, but usually, overall, from birth throughout the next 18 years, you are involved with your child each and every day.

Now that you are divorced, you need to establish a new type of relationship with your beloved child. Being the non-custodial or non –residential parent is extremely difficult. You miss your child constantly and may feel that you don’t have significant input into our child’s life and upbringing. After a divorce, the parent who resides with the child has the opportunity to support and nurture the child through the divorce, but the non residential parent may feel very cut off and isolated. Both parents have the responsibility to focus on being the best parent they can and to work together for the benefit of the children.

Still, in spite of not being physically present every day, the parent who does not have primary residence with the child can have a very positive and strong relationship with the child. Yehl Marta suggests some wonderful guidelines that really work:

  • Focus on communication. If possible, talk to your children daily. This is what happens if you live in the same house as the children so why should it stop now that you live elsewhere? Your former partner and family members alike should encourage this close connection. Of course, there will be times when the child will be too busy or not available, but it’s important that you try again the next day.
  • Let the child know that out of sight does not mean out of mind and that you have forgotten them. Mail or e-mail your children cards, articles, cartoons and jokes that they would enjoy. This provides a link and also lets your children know you are thinking of them. Children really believe that when you aren’t with them physically, you don’t think of them or miss them.
  • Stay involved with your child’s education and take an active interest. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and the other and the other staff at the school. Ask for copies of all communications that go home.
  • Attend as many school functions as possible.
  • With your child’s help, start a scrapbook or memory box commemorating things you have done together. Include written memories, photographs, ticket stubs and other mementos.
  • Build your child’s security by being reliable and dependable. Part of being dependable means being on time, keeping your word and following through on your promises. Only make promises you can keep. If you say you are going to be at one of your child’s school activities or open days, be there. If something unforeseen happens and you’re not able to make it after all, try to let your child know and make sure you apologize for breaking your promise.
  • Do not undercut the other parent’s discipline.
  • Do not ask children to be message carriers to the other family members.
  • Enter your child’s world. Play age appropriate games with your child. Spend time alone with each child when just two of you talk, read, take a walk together or engage in some other activity both of you enjoy. Avoid constant TV or background noise. In addition to these regular one on one times, create special outings for the two of you where you do something you know the child particularly enjoys.
  • Go to the library and learn more about the subjects that interest your child. While you’re there, borrow books that talk about divorce. Read them together.
  • When your children are with you, do not include your current ‘friend’ except on rare occasions. The children need you, not a group visit.
  • Remember your child’s birthday and other key dates. Find ways to make these special occasions memorable by creating new traditions while keeping some of the old.
  • Handle the teenage years gracefully. Your child will become more distant and want to spend more time with friends. This is normal. Maintain a steady, constant presence and the child will eventually return to you.
  • Discipline when necessary. Your child is still looking for and needs a parent, not a playmate. ‘No’ is a love word. However, catch them being good and comment or acknowledge that. Do offer more compliments and praise than corrective comments.
  • Don’t overindulge or spoil your children to compensate for your absence or other shortcomings. Instead, take time to talk through your feelings with your children. Buying apologies is not effective or worthwhile and teaches children to take advantage of you and the situation.
  • Educate yourself about raising children by reading books on parenting, and helping children deal with loss. Divorce and developmental stages talk through issues with the child without overreacting in fear and anxiety and instead of giving quick advice help the child to discuss solutions and think about the consequences of choices. The choices we make influence the choices we get.
  • Lead your child by example and be the best parent that you can.

Reference: Yehl Marta S. 2004. Healing the hurt restoring the hope. Rodale: London.


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Dr Barbara Wade is an accredited member of Saaswipp (the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice) and practices in the field of individual and family therapy, as well as specializing in all forms of trauma