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Health & Pregnancy

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The Pain of Post-Divorce Parenting

Easing the Pain

Doomed or not?

Recent research has directed much attention to the effects of divorce on children. Some researchers, like California psychologist and author Judith S. Wallerstein, PhD, say children of divorce will be negatively affected for life, more likely to get in trouble, use alcohol or drugs, and to have troubled relationships as adults. Others, like divorce researcher and psychologist Judith Primavera, PhD, of Fairfield University in Connecticut, say divorce isn't a life sentence for kids.

What makes the difference? Surprisingly, it may be how the parents act after the divorce, Primavera tells WebMD, that determines whether a child succeeds or fails.

While there is no way to completely shield a child from the impact of divorce, there are things parents can do to help them get through it successfully. Swinney, Harwood, and others offer the following advice.

Heal yourself

"If you don't heal, your kids can't either," says Swinney. Whether you talk about your pain, anger, and disappointment with a friend, family member, clergy, or counselor, working through your own grief in a positive way shows your children that they can, too.

Stop the conflict

It's not divorce that hurts the children as much as the ongoing conflict, says Primavera. "The conflict needs to end with the divorce," she says. If there is a chance you and your spouse will argue when you talk, make sure it happens out of the kids' earshot. If fights often occur when making a visitation handover, arrange for just one parent to pick up the kids at a neutral place like at school or at daycare instead.

Build a business relationship

"You don't have to like your ex-spouse, but you do have to find a way to work with them when it comes to the children," says Swinney. She suggests trying to view the relationship on a business level rather than as a love or hate relationship, with the business being to raise secure, emotionally stable, and happy children.

Don't badmouth

This is one of the most common slips parents and extended family make, says Swinney. But when you say, "Your dad is a loser," the message your kids may get is, "that makes you half loser, too." It's emotionally important for children to believe their parents are both good people, even if they aren't perfect. They'll see the flaws for themselves when they are mature enough to handle that information.

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