by Gabriele Schorb-Machado~
Parental divorce is one of the most prevalent adversities experienced by children in the U.S. According to the US Census Bureau more than 1.5 million children experience divorce each year. The number of children who experience separation of their parents is not included in this figure. Parental divorce/separation is a significant risk factor for mental health, substance abuse, and academic failure. It is estimated that about 20 % of divorces are high conflict and parents will not be able to co-parent successfully.
Regardless of whether parents stay together or split, if children live with high conflict parents pre or post divorce, they will suffer. While many separating or divorcing parents seek advice and support, too many parents cannot put their own agenda and their own emotional baggage aside or behind them despite therapeutic interventions.
Yes, despite interventions from judges, attorneys, mediators, therapists, social workers from child protection agencies, and even physicians. A high conflict personality or hostile personality initiates and sustains post separation conflict. Articles and books are written about, and conferences are organized around the high conflict couple or parent.
Some researchers believe that the narcissistic disturbance of at least one of those parents is the core of the high conflict couple/parents. Being preoccupied with their own emotional wound, they fail to realize that their ongoing battles deprive their children of a harmonious life and a healthy bond with their parents.
Most people believe that divorce hurts or harms children. This is not true. Parents fighting harms children! Some interesting studies show that even a small amount of parental conflict can cause problems for their children. Children who live with hostile or high conflict parents can have symptoms similar to children who are abused or neglected. Some of these effects on children include: disrupting sleep, negative feelings, irritability, anger, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, academic failure, and unhealthy bonding with parents.
Many parents who are concerned about their children’s emotional wellbeing after a separation or divorce are searching for education about possible harmful effects that divorce and separation can have on children. The internet can lead to many resources including: support groups for parents and children, books , articles, and therapists.
Some courts across the United States mandate or suggest parent education courses. An emerging trend are evidence based co-parenting courses. While the Center for Divorce and Education (CDE) developed a curriculum called Children In Between (formerly Children in the Middle), other organizations are promoting: Parenting Through Change, New Beginnings, or After The Storm. Some of these courses can be taken in a classroom situation, online, or as a combination. Research shows that in person classes and online courses are equally effective. For the more resilient parents “Parenting Coordinators” might do the trick. A Parent coordinator’s objective is to assist high conflict parents to implement a parenting plan and monitor compliance.
Following are some resources for parents who would like more information on good co-parenting and minimizing the effects of divorce/separation on their children:
Some Books for Parents:
The Co-Parenting Survival Guide by E.S. Sayer, E. Thayer, J. Zimmerman
Parenting After Divorce. A Guide for Co-Parenting after Divorce by S. Booker
Children In Between , After The Storm ( Parents’ Guide), and Shelter from the Storm, all three by Center for Divorce Education.
Books for children:
Mom’s House, Dad’s House Kids: Feeling at Home in One Home or Two, by I. Ricci.
Divorce in not the End of the World: Zoe’s and Evan’s Coping Guide for Kids, by Z . Stern and E. Stern.
Two Homes, by C. Masurel.
A Smart Girl’s Guide to her Parents’ Divorce, by N. Holyoke.
Parents are Forever, by S. Thomas.