Being the best dad during divorce and beyond
Article provided by Arthur S. Kallow
Divorce is never easy, even if things are amicable between you and the other parent. As a father, you may experience conflicting emotions and significant challenges throughout the divorce process and going forward.
Understandably, you may be focused on yourself, but as a parent it is crucially important to pay close, ongoing attention to how your children are doing. More than ever, they need the security of a father’s love and guidance.
Even if the other parent has more parenting time or provides your child’s primary residence, you can make a monumental difference in how your child weathers the transition. Increase the quality of your involvement. Focus on your children’s emotional health and stability. As a bonus, your parent-child relationship will be stronger for the rest of your lives.
Consider how your child may struggle and experience stress depending on their age and developmental stage. Understanding this can inform your care for them.
Age-related reactions to divorce
Chicago dads’-rights attorney Jeffery Leving in his book, “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad,” provides insights into children’s age-specific reactions to divorce. He explains that while age-related trends are valid, each child will still react individually – most within the typical range of reactions, and others uniquely or unexpectedly.
He considers four age ranges:
- Five years or younger: Until turning three, a child may sense the weakening of family bonds and notice if a father is less often present, weakening the attachment process. Children three to five tend to develop fears, which may influence behaviors, including sleep problems or regression in bedwetting. They may be confused about what divorce is. A good father will reassure very young kids that he is not going anywhere.
- Six to nine: These kids struggle with choosing between their parents and with related feelings of betrayal and disloyalty. A good divorced dad will play down tension between him and the other parent and keep negative opinions about them from the child.
- Ten to 12: Children in this age group understand divorce more than younger kids. Common reactions include anger, resentment or embarrassment. These emotions can cause behavior problems or acting out. Fathers need to create safe places for kids this age to vent without reprisals or judgment.
- Thirteen to 18: They may keep difficult questions about the divorce private. Questions arise around their own ability to have a romantic relationship. Stress and anger may manifest in drinking or drug use. A good divorced dad keeps communication channels open. Poor behavioral choices should be described as just that, and not indications of character flaws.
To calm anxiety, maximize opportunities to be with your child at bedtime, even if it requires a special visit. Try to keep them out of the court process, especially if they are younger, and never as a witness. An exception might be to establish abuse or neglect where the judge would carefully manage that testimony.
Attorney Leving’s writing details questions that could raise red flags and prompt a father to investigate or intervene:
- Is the child particularly vulnerable because of self-esteem problems?
- Does the child have a disability?
- Have the child’s grades dropped?
- Are there marked changes in behavior like fluctuations in temperament, withdrawal from social situations, fighting or reduction in talking?
- Have bedwetting or nightmares increased?
- And others
Do not hesitate to seek professional support for your child if their behavior alarms you.
Being a “good divorced dad” means putting your children first even when you are struggling. “Your kids need you and are vulnerable because of the divorce, and you need to be conscious about protecting them,” counsels Leving. Proceed calmly, balancing honesty with reassurance.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd., and co-authored the first real Illinois joint custody law and other laws. In addition to “How to Be a Good Divorced Dad,” he is the author of “Fathers’ Rights” and “Divorce Wars.” To learn more about Jeffery M. Leving and his latest court victories, follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and view his videos on YouTube.