Divorce is never easy for children, no matter what their age and no matter how much conflict they have witnessed during the marriage. For them, divorce is the death of the family that they relied on as a piece of their own identity. While it is true that children are resilient and many of them are able to navigate this change with aplomb, we also know that there are things parents can do which will either exacerbate or ease their children’s struggles.
The role of the Child Specialist in Collaborative Divorce is to provide parents with information about how to best serve their children throughout the process. This is not necessarily obvious. Even excellent parents can make critical mistakes or be blind-sided by issues they couldn’t have predicted.*
I approach this role in a structured way: I meet with each parent individually to explore their parenting challenges and concerns. Then I meet with the children, one-on-one, in my playroom. This meeting is pretty much always fun for the kids. We do talk about the divorce, but we also play about it, which actually gives me a lot more information about what’s really going on for them. And being able to show their thoughts and feelings with a neutral and kind adult, who is just interested and attentive, can be a great unburdening and relief.
When parents have questions about educational or emotional issues, I may also do observations or call teachers or other helping professionals to get additional information. Then, I meet with both parents and both of their coaches. At that meeting parents get to talk about their joint concerns about the children, and I get to let them know what their children are thinking and feeling. (I tell the kids when I meet with them that I will find a REALLY NICE way to do this, that won’t hurt their parents’ feelings.) When asked, I can also share parenting advice and make referrals to helping professionals.
Oftentimes, this is the end of my role. Although I sometimes do recommend therapy for the children, I never become their therapist. Occasionally, with a divorce that has taken quite some time for one reason or another, I’ll repeat this process to see how the children are doing further down the line.
Giving the children a voice in divorce is a passion of mine. I love this role!
*Worried that you may be making mistakes inadvertently? Dr. Laura Markham, author of several parenting books including “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” has written an excellent article about protecting children during divorce. Here’s the link: