By Karen Ela Kenny
Therapists have long known that children whose parents have divorced will do better when their parents are able to remain emotionally strong and supportive for their children. Divorcing parents who are able to co-parent in a respectful manner help their children adapt more easily to a stressful time in the family’s life. What we know is that children are impacted negatively by high-conflict divorce more than the divorce itself. High-conflict creates “toxic stress” to children that increases anxiety, decreases the ability to perform well, and leads to depression and acting-out behaviors. Sadly, the litigated approach often contributes to enhancing conflict rather than reducing it. Parents who stay in a high-conflict marriage for “the sake of the children” are creating more toxic stress for their children than a healthy divorce.
In my work with many young adults who have gone off to college I have heard so often “I wish my parents had gotten divorced. They fight all the time and I hate it. It is so stressful to deal with”. Again, it is the high conflict that is more harmful to children than undergoing a life transition. Our children are often faced with difficult life transitions – death of a beloved grandparent, illness in a parent or sibling, financial stress due to a layoff, moving because of a job transfer, etc. What is important to children is feeling supported and emotionally secure through any of these difficult times.
Unlike the adversarial litigated approach, the Collaborative approach is a kinder, gentler, healthier, and smarter process of divorcing. Kinder and gentler because a team will support the couple through this process, healthier because it provides opportunities for teaching communication and co-parenting skills and smarter because it supports the couple in arriving at their own decisions together. Do you want to make the decisions together, or have a judge decide? Who should know best the needs of your children? The Divorce Coach helps the divorcing couple work together on co-parenting as they begin to un-couple while remaining co-parents. The work done during the Collaborative process of divorcing helps stabilize the emotions and reduce conflicts that will create a positive outcome for children needing their parent’s support during this stressful life transition. This sets the groundwork for future respectful interactions that you will be faced with as your children grow. There may be sporting events or theatre performances to attend, or graduations from high school and college. Children who know that their parents will be able to be there cordially for these important events have much less anxiety than those trying to manage their parents continued discord.
Karen Ela Kenny, MSW, LICSW is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and Facilitator. She has helped dozens of couples in NH and MA achieve a Collaborative Divorce since 2010. She also has a private practice where she has seen couples, families, and individuals since 1982. It is this very work that has inspired her to become involved in helping couples divorce in a healthier way.