Resources For Divorcing Parents

By Laura Melton Tucker, September 2nd, 2014

Listen to this entry..

It’s Back to School time – for me, too.  My mediation work continues, but I’m also attending school to earn my Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy.  I want to expand and deepen my mediation work by entering into clients’ conflict process earlier, as a therapist.

Reading my new textbook last night, I came across this powerful statement: “With the divorce rate at 50 percent and the rate of redivorce at 61 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), divorce now strikes the majority of American families.  The primary tasks of a divorcing couple are to end the marriage but maintain cooperation as parents…”*

Ah…but how to do this?  During mediation, the groundwork can be laid for building cooperation between parents, but, too often, hurt, grief, anger, frustration and resentment become barriers to working cooperatively as co-parents.  Getting beyond these feelings, by either working with a therapist, implementing new coping strategies or turning to the wisdom of experts, families can better navigate this difficult life passage. Here are three resources that may also be helpful:

In The Good Divorce, Dr. Constance Ahrons, a family therapist and collaborative  divorce mediator, provides practical advice about how to work toward creating stability and ease for your chlildren as they travel between two binuclear homes.  Ahrons describes what optimal relationships between ex-spouses can look like, and she breaks down why harmful power grabbing and fighting over the kids can leave lasting damage in families. Her tone is warm, the information she provides is evidence based, and her advice will give you hope if you’re currently struggling with how to do divorce better than your own parents or friends who have been through it with horror stories to tell. Ahrons’ own painful divorce informs her perspective.  She recounts her transformation from an angry ex-spouse into a support person for her adult children who, when their father died, were comforted that their mother was able to be at their side during his funeral.  Ahrons’ willingness to attend her ex-husband’s funeral, and her welcome by his family, was a sign of the family’s ultimate healing.  At a difficult impasse during a mediation, mediators may ask clients to imagine upcoming life events – graduations, weddings, births of grandchildren, even deaths – as glimpses into the future that the current moment is creating.  Will co-parents unite to support their children and celebrate life events, or will parents’ behavior fracture the children into separate camps of conflicted loyalties and complicated logistics? The power to shape the future can motivate co-parents to stay focused during a mediation to work toward mutual compromise.  Peace is possible, according to Ahrons, when parents choose a path of positive interaction, flexibility and accommodation.

Another wonderful resource for divorced parents is The Children’s Book, a thin paperback intended to stay with the children as they travel back and forth between homes.  The book addresses the challenge of finding constructive and practical ways to share information between parents by becoming the family record of schedules, medical, vacation, activity and school information, along with pages left blank to inspire parents to draft and commit to agreements about how to cooperatively co-parent.  The book is compiled by Marilyn and Stephen Erickson, a wife and husband duo who train mediators and operate their own Twin Cities mediation practice.  Marilyn’s family therapist background and Stephen’s training as an attorney inform both their mediation practice and this practical book designed to help parents get on the same page.

Finally, for personal help, a newly opened resource for individuals, couples and families in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area is the Gerald and Audrey Olson Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic associated with Mt. Mercy’s MFT graduate school. Clients can receive therapy in a teaching lab setting for little cost ($10 to $30 per session) and almost no wait.

The very word resource is hopeful by nature.  It’s dictionary definition is “relief or recovery for someone having difficulty,” and its Latin root, resurgere, means to rise again. The takeaway is that divorce is a normal life passage – families don’t end, they change.   With care and attention to the divorce process, parents can navigate this most difficult of all life passages by opening themselves to a happier, healthier way to be in relationship to one another.

Happy start to the school year, everyone, and may we all expand through new life challenges!

* From Family Therapy Concepts and Methods, tenth edition, Michael P. Nichols, p.82

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