Divorce is often one of life’s most challenging events not only for adults but also for children.Divorce is of Many legal decisions must be decided such as custody, visitation and financial matters of assets and liabilities. Changes that often accompany divorce will not only untie the “wedding knot” but also affect family members forever. Children of divorce are the most innocent victims and depending on their ages and psychological maturity, a child may experience and cope with the family changes differently.
Often times, not long after a child has had to emotionally handle the decisions that parents no longer love each other, and adjust to changes in the family’s relationship, many children are also faced with the reality that one parent will also decide to “divorce” them, choosing not to co-parent. This occurs when one or both parents decide that parenting is not his or her priority, or for some it may be that parenting is not an option due to children being removed from their home or imprisonment. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, many children are faced with their parent’s divorce and then faced with the reality that not only am I not going to see one of my parents daily but now not at all.
What are children who are faced with not having a mom or dad as an intricate part of his or her life not only daily but now never supposed to do? The active parent often is overwhelmed not only with the additional responsibilities that divorce has brought but now how can this void be filled? For the child placed in this position, he/she is often “left out” when activities require that a certain gender parent is needed to participate in school and extracurricular activities such as overnight sporting events, boy scout father and son night of camping, mother/daughter teas for mother’s day, etc.
Another factor faced by a child when a parent decides not to parent is role identification of that parent. How does one learn the role of the absent parent? What is the role of a father/mother? When the child matures and becomes a father/mother, what does the role mean? How does this child complete the parenting task? Looking from afar at friend’s parents and having a father/mother who participates his/her life is different not only in perception but in learning the role. How do we continue to keep roles prevalent in the future when parenting roles are often not communicated? Teaching children by a living example of active involvement in their lives is needed. Learning by example from his parent’s role identification, morals, values, and philosophy of the term and role of a mother and/or father is necessary.
If a parent so chooses to “skip out on parenting”, what can the active parent do to help the children experience what would be needed from the absent parent. One suggestion would be to have a surrogate parent to become involved in the children’s lives. A surrogate parent can not only fill the void of the absent parent but also be reflective of the absent parent’s role. Although a surrogate parent is not to take the place of a biological parent, he/she is often welcomed when a young girl has reached the age of puberty and has many questions that dad just cannot seem to answer. I remember seeing a young girl and her father looking in the female section of a local store with the father holding products, shaking his head, placing the items back on the shelf with a horrified look. The young girl was looking at her father for answers but dad just did not seem to have any.
Finding a surrogate parent should be a huge undertaking, filled with much thought. By choosing this person, you are agreeing with the influence that this person would have on the children and would be reflective in your morals, values, etc.
Four characteristics of a surrogate parent may include the following:
1. A person that is a permanent “fixture” in the child’s life. Meaning, a current dating partner may not be a good choice as this person may be present today but in six months may not be around. Dating partners are just that, dating and with dating the parent has the choice whether he/she will continue to date this person. If the children identify with only this male/female (the dating partner) and the parent decides to stop dating this person, this may signal to the child that another person has left my life.
A permanent “fixture” could be an aunt or uncle with good morals and values. Family is usually always a part of each other’s lives.
2. What qualifications should this surrogate parent meet? If you were to “hand pick” someone to influence as a role model with your child, what qualities should he/she have? This person must have the same values, ideals and be representative of what a parent would desire for the children to grow in his/her knowledge from this person.
3. Many communities offer a big sister and big brother program that will allow children to have someone to confide in as a friend rather than a surrogate parent. Someone to accept them with or without parents, set good examples and offer a listening ear to concerns that maybe adults may not understand.
4. Local churches and counseling centers may offer mentorships. These organizations may organize and offer opportunities for children to spend one on one time with his/her mentor allowing for quality time.
No matter how great a surrogate parent is, he or she cannot take the place of a biological parent. The fact remains that children are not asked to be born, do not ask parents to stop loving each other and certainly do not ask a parent to take a detour on parenting after divorce. Allow children the opportunity to understand what roles that each parents play, enable them to be able to attend events that the absent parent would be needed and most of all if you are a parent that is contemplating divorce or have already divorced, make sure that your children will never need a surrogate parent due to the fact that you will remain an active parent in their lives.
Divorce Tool Box understands the challenges of divorce. If we can be of assistance, give us a call today or visit our website as www.divorcetoolbox.com .