If you are divorced or in the process of separating, you already know your kids are having a hard time. It's your responsibility to put their needs—physical and psychological—before your own. You can help your child through a divorce and their resulting reality by respecting their rights.
As a child of divorce, your child has the right to:
Be free of your conflicts and hostilities. When you badmouth each other in front of your child, it tears them apart inside. Don't put your child in the middle or play them against the other parent. And don't burden them with your relationship problems. Those problems are yours, not theirs.
Develop a relationship with both parents. Your child loves you both. They know you'll sometimes be jealous about that, but you need to deal with it because you're the adult.
Information about things that will affect their life. If you're planning to divorce, your child has a right to know, just as soon as is reasonable. Likewise, if you're planning to move, get remarried or any other major life change, they have a right to know about that, too.
Be protected from bad information. This means you shouldn't tell your child about sexual exploits or other misbehavior by the other parent. And don't apologize to them—for the other parent—because this implies a negative judgment of the other parent. If you apologize to your child, apologize for yourself.
Their own personal space in both homes. This doesn't mean your child can't share a room with a brother or sister, but it does mean that they need you to give them some space and time of their own. Your child also needs some special personal items in his or her own space. And this might include a picture of the other parent. Don't freak out about it.
Physical safety and supervision. You may be very upset about your divorce, but that doesn't mean you should neglect your child's needs. Your child doesn't want to be home alone all the time, while you're out dating someone new.
Spend time with both parents, without interference. Your child's right to spend time with each of you shouldn't depend on how much money one of you has paid the other. That makes your child feel cheap, like something you might buy in a store.
Financial and emotional support from both parents, regardless of how much time your child spends with either one of you. This doesn't mean your child expects twice as much as other kids get. It just means you should stop worrying about what they got from the other parent and focus on what you're providing.
Firm limits and boundaries and reasonable expectations. Just because he or she is a child of divorce doesn't mean your child can't handle chores, homework or other normal responsibilities. On the other hand, keep in mind that even though there may be younger siblings (or stepsiblings), your child is not the designated baby-sitter.
Your patience. Your children didn't choose to go through a divorce. They didn't choose to have their biological parents live in two different homes, move away, date different people and in general turn their world upside-down. More than most children's, your children's lives have been beyond their control. This means they'll need your help and support to work through any control issues.
Be a child. Your child shouldn't have to be your spy, your special confidant or your parent. Just because you and your ex now hate to talk to each other, your child shouldn't have to be your personal message courier. Your child has a right to be more than a child of divorce. Your son or daughter has the right to be a child whose parents love them more than they've come to hate each other.
© Pamela Espeland 2003