After a divorce, children may worry about their parents and feel the need to take on adult responsibilities in the home. Lesley Friedland, a family law attorney and mediator, offers advice on how to keep your children out of "grown-up problems" and help reduce their anxiety about the divorce process.
Q: I am a single mother and I worry that my son is growing up too fast—worrying about me, taking on things that his father used to...How can I mitigate that and give him back his childhood?
LF: Kids often take on the worries and responsibilities of their parents. However, it is the parents' job to help mitigate any harmful effects of a divorce or separation.
Most importantly, parents really need to work together. They should try to discuss any issues going on with their kids to help lessen what the children have to handle. Any "grown-up problems" need to be kept from the children and stay as "grown-up problems."
Q: What resources are out there to help parents who need extra support?
LF: In New York State there are many classes available for parents going through divorce or separation. During these certified education classes, parents attend separately and learn different ways to work together. They will learn that there are different ways to speak to one another without accusing or blaming the other parent—blame can be extremely damaging for kids. It's important to know that communication is key during a divorce or separation.
Q: Can you suggest some activities/programs children and parents can do together to reduce their stress during a divorce or separation?
LF: Mediation is great at helping parents learn to communicate. During mediation sessions, parents meet with a trained facilitator who helps them navigate the often-turbulent waters of divorce and separation. It also empowers parents by giving them tools to help them work together in the future because, in reality, divorce is just a step in a family's transition. Parents will have to work together for the entire lives of their children—through birthdays, graduations, weddings, etc.
Q: How can parents monitor the stress level of their child during a separation or divorce?
LF: During a divorce or separation, it is so important to be emotionally in-touch with your children. Spend as much time with your children as you can. Check to see if you notice any changes in behavior. There are also many professionals you can speak with, including your child’s pediatrician. There are a lot of organizations ready to help families going through divorce and separation. On the legal side, the NYC Bar Association and inMotion are available to help families.
Lesley Friedland is executive director of FamilyKind, a nonprofit organization in New York City that provides information and support services to families experiencing separation and divorce. Friedland serves on the Family Court Custody and Visitation Advisory Committee and is a member of the New York State Bar Association, New York Women’s Bar Association, New York State Council of Divorce Mediators, and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She graduated with a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and a JD from Antioch School of Law.