Advice for Parents Who are Divorcing
July 13, 2005
Although Dr. Phil doesn’t think unhappy couples should stay together for the children, he does believe that Americans turn to divorce too quickly. “I don’t think you’re ready to get a divorce unless and until you can look at yourself in the mirror and know that you have explored every avenue available to you in an effort to rehabilitate the relationship,” says Dr. Phil.
If you and your spouse have done this and decided that divorce is the appropriate choice for you, Dr. Phil has this advice:
Put your children’s needs first.
Accept that you have a responsibility to your children to do everything you can to ensure that the divorce doesn’t cost them any more than it already has and that is absolutely necessary. Children don’t have the voice and the ability to tell you what they think, so it is important to make their best interest your best interest. You have to be fiduciaries where you put their interest above your own. Take an honest look at yourself and what you’re doing to impact these children. Tell your children that they are number one: “You’re the most important. You are first in everything that we think and do, and we’re going to take care of you.”
Start a new relationship.
Don’t think of the divorce as ending the relationship with your ex-spouse. Instead, think of it as beginning a new one. Your new relationship as divorced parents involves being co-allies, nurturers and protectors of your children. Consider going to post-marital counseling where you can create a parenting plan, resolve your differences and finish your emotional business, so you can clearly see what is in the best interest of these children. It’s hard to be objective when there is so much emotion involved. Find a way to make your children feel that everywhere they turn they see love, support, and appreciation.
Communicate clearly with your children.
If communication is vague, children fill in the blanks to the detriment of themselves. They will blame themselves and think that it’s their fault that things have happened.
Don’t put your kids in the middle.
Resolve that there is not going to be a tug of war. Don’t put the children in between you and your ex and start pulling on them for their allegiance. Don’t use your children as pawns to find out about the other person or get back at your ex.
Fight in private.
Parents must stop the right-fighting and make a plan to help their children make it through the transition with as little trauma as possible. You can’t give away what you don’t have. If parents are filled with bitterness and angst and resentment, then their children are going to get pulled back and forth, and that’s not right or fair to them.
Never undermine the other parent.
Don't be critical of your ex in front of the children. Don't attack the mother/father of your child. Put the children above all of your personal wants and needs. Take the high ground. If you behave in such a way as to alienate their mother/father from the children, they will resent you for it. The day will come when they will say, 'You ran your own agenda and it cost us our mother/father.' You may feel like you might win at the time, but in the long term, they will resent you.
Communicate with your ex regarding child rearing decisions.
Make joint decisions and don't let the children divide you even further by manipulating the parent who is more lenient, etc.
Decide that your children will not come from a broken home, they are just going to have two homes.
Set up a home in which the children have a room, toys to play with and space to be kids. Make sure the children feel at home in both places.