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Lately, many of my young clients have come from divorced families. They seemed to be faced with the daunting task of having to work through the trials and tribulations of their parent's separation.

Dr. Dan Ashbourne, Director of Clinical Services for the Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System agreed to talk about the dilemma faced by many children. He provides assessment and consultation to the courts and families involved in the justice system.

He emphasized that parental roles should be shifted from that of an emotional relationship to more of a business agreement in order to work out arrangements for the children. Ongoing conflict scares children. They worry that now that one parent has departed the scene, the other caregiver might also abandon the family. Children may be scared and unsure about their future. They may have many changes. They may have to move from the family home, leave their school and neighbourhood and friends behind.

When parents divorce, it can mean that grandparents, uncles and aunts and cousins can be caught in the middle. Families now have to split birthdays, special holidays along family lines. The Hallmark card depiction of the happy family home is but a distant memory for some of these families.

Many of the children of divorcing parents can struggle with the numerous changes. Scheduling can be chaotic and conflicts may arise. Monday and Wednesday may be with Dad. Tuesdays and Thursday may be with Mom. Every second weekend can find the youngsters alternating between homes. Children can miss their pets, favourite toys or homework, having left them behind at one location and not having them easily accessible at the other home. The child may feel like a ping-pong ball bouncing between the two households. Power struggles between the parents may mean that the children's needs are not given priority.

It is important that adults be respectful of each other and not speak badly of their former partner. Children should not be asked to take sides. People making negative comments about one of the parents are also making the children feel bad as they are made up of integral parts of each of their parents.

Children do not need gifts from their parents but rather quality time and love from each parent. Children need to be financially supported so that as much as possible their lives can remain the same and they can continue with the things they love such as soccer or dance lessons.

Many children of divorce can become angry and upset. They need the emotional roller coaster ride to end. It may take 2-3 years for some families to settle. Children who experience a parent dying develop closure with support and help. Children of divorce who find themselves caught in the middle of an ongoing conflict and struggle that doesn't seem to end can not move on. The consequences of a bitter divorce for children is like unto an open psychic wound that never heals.

Children of a difficult divorce can experience negative influences on their education. It is hard for youngsters to focus and do well with their studies when their home life is unstable. Attendance, attention spans, marks can all suffer. When children reach their teenage years, unhealthy coping strategies may develop such as running away, drinking, using drugs, getting into trouble with the law. It can be hard to trust and develop a positive self concept when your home life has been torn apart.

Dr Ashbourne has some suggestions for parents divorcing. It is important to maintain a sense of stability for children. The less change the better. Although the couple's relationship has ended, the parenting roles remains and you need to be there for your children. When parents develop new relationships, be careful not to introduce them to the children until you are sure that it is serious. Brief, multiple liaisons can be confusing and disruptive for children.

To help your children cope, Dr Ashbourne suggests that constant, reliable, healthy parenting time helps to heal the wounds of the divorce. It is important to restore a sense of trust to allow your children to have a better chance to grow up emotionally healthy.

This report also appears in the May 2008 edition of "The Mum Online Magazine" : www.themomonline.com

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com