Following the parent’s divorce, the family must re-adjust in many ways that may be difficult for both parents and children. Usually, this involves going from a family living under the same roof to parents living separately and the children being with each parent a prescribed amount of time (parenting time). This road can be relatively smooth or very rocky. How rough the road is partially depends upon the amount of conflict, bitterness, resentment between the parents and the degree to which the children have been drawn into the middle of this conflict. Of course, family members have to adjust not just as a family but also as individuals, (for the parents – as co-parents) and perhaps in relation to the community.
Children sometimes fear that their family will cease to exist after a divorce. Parents may reassure the children that the “family” will continue and they will always have a mother and father, it is just that the parents will live in separate houses. Does this “family” function in the same way after a divorce? Are decisions made the way they were before the divorce? In many families they may. In families with the highest conflict the divorced family may function very differently. One of the parents and the children may be together with the other parent off to the side, marginalized, and in the most extreme situations having little of nothing to do with the family. There are many different possibilities.
Divorced families come in all sizes and shapes. They may have a variety of structures and each family will find their own way to recovery/readjustment. Over time, the family size and shape may change as other people enter and as people sometimes leave.
We envisioned this workshop for families that have been relatively successful in their recovery following the divorce, as a place where family members would review and consolidate their gains and perhaps see what is still needed. As we discussed the workshop with people in the community, we found that there was strong interest from families who have had difficulty readjusting after the divorce and from families that are just starting the divorce process, wanting to learn what was ahead and how to better navigate potentially stormy waters.
At the time of a divorce the family goes from a co-parenting team to two single parents with the same children. A single parent family is more difficult because back-up is not readily available. Of course this assumes that the parenting team functioned adequately previously and the parents were not so consumed with their occupations or conflict that little time was left for the family. One parent could relieve the other parent and, as a team, the parents could play to their relative strengths. For example, if one parent was good in Math and the other in English. During homework time the parents would have their respective roles. Of course, when the co-parenting works well, there may be flexibility in the parenting times and one parent can fill in for the other and they can help each other out. This includes their relative strengths and the needs of the children.
The rules in the family may change for the two residence family. Ideally, the rules will be similar in each household but this is not necessarily the case. We can also look at the family dynamics and the communication – these are more likely to be problematic when there is high conflict.
Other issues are:
When should a parent start to date? When do they introduce the children to this person?
Is it OK for a person they date to live in the house? How should they handle remarrying? What happens when step-children are introduced? What if a child is born to the new couple?