One of the greatest worries parents of divorce experience is how their children will handle their new family structure. Parents can unwittingly get so wrapped up in their own emotions that they lose sight of what the children are going through – sometimes harming the very children they mean to protect.
With some thought and planning, divorce can, however, become a time of developing and nurturing your relationship with your children, as you help them through the family transition.
Several websites and authors have come up with a “Children’s Bill of Rights” to remind parents to put their best foot forward when guiding children through the divorce. In fact, I always include such a document when I draft divorce or separation agreements for parents.
Like the Bill of Rights of our US Constitution, these tenets are written in broad strokes, meant as guideposts. These share many of the same suggestions and sentiments:
- Do not put the children in the middle of your dispute with your ex.
- Remember that they love your ex, even if you do not.
- If you have nothing positive to say about your ex, say nothing at all.
- Do your best to maintain your own relationship with each of your children, and to shelter them from your own turmoil.
- And remember that your divorce is stressful for them, too.
Here is a short guide (with links) to some of the Children’s Bill of Rights online:
Robert Emery – Robert Emery, PhD, is one of the leading researchers and authors about children and divorce. His research has shown that parents who mediate their divorces are much more likely to have meaningful relationships with their children in the years following. His Bill of Rights is directed at the child, and is written in language that a middle school child (or older) could understand. Here is how it starts:
“Every child whose parents divorce has:
The right to love and be loved by both of your parents without feeling guilt or disapproval.
The right to be protected from your parents’ anger with each other.”
Divorce HQ’s document is written from the point of view of the child. It is written more simply, and more practically than Emery’s, and gets progressively more complicated as it goes along. Some examples:
“XIV. The right to expect consistent parenting at a time when little in my life seems constant or secure.
XV. The right to expect healthy relationship modeling, despite the recent events.”
The New Jersey chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (NJ-AFCC) has published a Bill of Rights that is more comprehensive, and emphasizes keeping children out of the middle of conflict. For instance, it includes:
“6. The right to know that expressions of love between children and parents will not cause fear, disapproval, or other negative consequences.
7. The right to know that their parents decision to divorce is not their fault. …
11. The right to know and appreciate what is good in each parent.”
The Children’s Rights Council is a non-profit devoted to the sentiment, “the best parent is both parents.” Their version of the Children’s Bill of Rights starts with the following statement, “We, the children of parents who have or [are] about to end their relationship as we know it, deserve fair and just treatment by each of you.
We ask you to consider us while we all go through the changes occurring within our family. To make it easy for you to think of us, we have agreed on some things that we think you should consider. We are your children and we love each of you!”
Theirs is quite detailed, and is also written from the child’s perspective. It includes different sections, such as: Expressions of Love and Sense of Security. Some of their statements are:
13. The right to be able to experience regular, consistent, and flexible shared parenting time with both parents, and the right to know the reason for changes in the parenting schedule.
14. The right to have neither parent interfere with, or undermine, parenting time with the other parent.
I am partial to one published by the NY State Court, Tomkins County website.
It includes statements like:
The right not to be used as a confidant regarding the legal proceedings between the parties.
The right to express feelings, whatever those feelings may be.
The right to choose not to express certain feelings.
Finally, there is a website called Up to Parents that you can use to design your own guide as you navigate your divorce.
We can learn something from each of these! It is worth looking at them all. They help us remember – and stay true to – our priorities – and that it is our job, as parents, to continue to guide and nurture our children as our lives and families change.