Besides treating anxiety, working with families as they navigate divorce is what I do most. It is a challenging reality of today’s families but believe it or not there are ways to go through the process in a way that maximizes your child’s ability to cope and manage it better and in a way that parents learn to truly continue to co-parent in a healthy way.

I received a voicemail from a woman named Lisa on a Monday morning that simply said, “My husband I decided over the weekend to end our marriage of 16 years. We have 3 beautiful children that we both love, we were referred to you by our pediatrician who said you may be able to help us. Please call me back…”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and called her back. I knew this was raw and that she would either be very emotional or still in shock, not yet able to process all of the emotions that come along with such a life changing decision. The phone rang and Lisa answered immediately. I introduced myself and said that I had received her message. The next question was a simple one, “How are you doing?” After a few seconds of silence Lisa said, “not good” as she fought back tears. I asked her to tell me a bit about what was going on and how they came to this conclusion. Lisa proceeded to share that she was once happily married but that financial strains, growing their family while growing apart from her husband led her to the conclusion that they would be better off apart. She reported some bad fights in front of the children though she said that most of the time they did their best to get along in front of them. She was desperately worried about her kids who were 6, 9 and 12. She said she could handle anything except for ruining her their lives, she kept saying, “they didn’t ask for this, they are innocent in all of this.”

By the end of the call, we came up with the agreement that she and her husband would not share this news yet without coming in and speaking about it first. This is an ideal situation- when the parents come in first to plan their delivery, message and timeline before breaking the news to the children. We set an appointment for the following week.

The following week I met with Lisa and her husband who were clearly emotional and nervous. We went through some key details in establishing the most sincere and intentional way to share this news with their kids, who were all in different developmental stages. We discussed the messaging (how exactly would they present the announcement), the timing and location (where and what time of day would they share the news), and the anticipated questions and reactions. I role played out what each of the three kids may say or do based on how they described each child plus my knowledge of child development. And last, we discussed the logistical plans (who would stay in the house, when would the other move out and to where and when).

We were able to accomplish this in one session, though for some couples it takes two or three sessions, usually that depends on the level of conflict. They came back the following week after they told the children over the weekend and we continued on with “co-parenting through divorce” sessions. By doing this they had a neutral person (me) who was able to represent the best interest of the kids, help them decrease some tension topics and best of all helped them avoid a messy court battle.

Again, this is most possible when the couple starts in therapy. It helps sets the focus on the kids and truly doing what is in their best interest. But if you find yourself or know someone who is in a messy divorce situation you may want to consider going to a divorce coach or a therapist who specializes in this type of treatment. I have seen first hand that done with the kid’s interests first, you will not necessarily “ruin” your kids’ lives.

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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