Helping children after divorce

February 1, 2009 5:36:47 AM PST
Divorce hurts all of those involved, but can be especially tough on the children and can affect them for the rest of their lives. Dr. Jocelyn Crowley, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University and author of "Defiant Dads," joined us with tips. 1. Who are fathers' rights groups and how did Crowley study them?

· Fathers' rights groups are made up of mostly white, middle class men who have children but are currently unmarried, separated, or divorced
· These groups meet throughout the country on a regular basis (usually monthly)
· One estimate puts their membership at 10,000 nationally
· Crowley studied these groups by interviewing 158 members and leaders, as well as observing 8 groups in action; she also reviewed their websites and printed materials

2. What do fathers' rights groups want in terms of changing public policy?

· In the area of child support, these groups want to reduce their obligations in ways that they argue would be fairer to them
· Regarding child custody, they also want all the states to pass joint physical custody laws
· Crowley argues in her book that these policy positions are NOT positive for American families because they would hurt women and children

3. What do fathers' rights groups want re: their relationships with their ex-partners?

· Research has shown that parents who are (1) satisfied with their parenting arrangements, and who (2) communicate effectively with one another will get along better in the post-dissolution context
· Crowley argues that fathers' rights groups CAN BE positive for American families in this context because they can help fathers achieve these relationship goals in four ways:
o Providing legal information about their rights as fathers to their members
o Promoting constructive discussion techniques with their ex-partners through a reduction in anger (for example, using short, unemotional language when making a request of their ex-partners)
o Encouraging non-confrontational "phraseology" with their ex-partners (for example, calling their ex-partners "my children's mother" instead of "my ex", which can seem hostile)
o Propagating special "group rules" in shaping individual behavior both at meetings and outside of meetings (for example, redirecting their need for revenge against their ex-partners toward healing instead)

4. What do fathers' rights groups want in terms of their relationships with their children?

· Research has demonstrated that children from dissolving families need both (1) a high quantity of time with their parents, and (2) a high quality of time as well
· Crowley argues that fathers' rights groups CAN BE positive for American families in this context because they can help fathers achieve these relationship goals in three ways:
o Providing fathers with support and empowerment regarding their irreplaceable roles in their children's lives (for example, continuing to see their children on a regular basis even if they are overwhelmed with work or other personal problems)
o Giving them child-centered skills and activity suggestions (for example, creating a space in their new homes for their children's belongings)
o Offering them an important new philosophy or creed by which to re-envision their lives as parents (for example, by stressing that fathers should always go through life with their child's best interests at heart)

5. What is the future of fathers' rights groups?

· Their success has been limited so far in terms of changing public policy but they do seem to help men work on their relationships with their ex-partners and children
· They need to control extremism within their ranks that sometimes manifests itself as hatred of women in general; they should encourage men to be more active in their children's lives when their families are still together; they should focus first on working towards women's equality as well in terms of economics and child care responsibilities

HOW DIVORCED PARENTS CAN BEST GET ALONG AND HELP THEIR CHILDREN ADJUST AFTER A BREAK-UP
Ø Speak with your ex-partner in a non-emotional, simple, and direct manner.
Ø Be non-confrontational. Saying "the mother of my children" rather than "my ex-wife" makes a difference. Avoid using phrases with negative connotations. Be as respectful as possible.
Ø Redirect your anger against your ex-partner.
Focus instead on how to move forward as positively as possible as a family.
Ø Be supportive of other parents in a similar situation. The best way to improve your relationship with your children is to be there for them and to encourage other parents to do the same. It's easy to drop out of your children's lives because of the stress, but remember you need to be a parent first.
Ø Focus on giving kids space in parents' new lives. Make sure you give kids their own space in each parent's home, even if it's just a special drawer.
Ø Cultivate a new relationship with your child. Think of the new role you want to play in your child's life, keeping your child's best interest and happiness at heart.
Ø Don't be a Disneyland Mom or Dad.
Don't feel like you need to constantly entertain your children when you're with them. It's important for kids to have a sense of what life is really like. Constantly keeping them entertained sets up unrealistic expectations for them.

Author Information:

Jocelyn Elise Crowley is Associate Professor of Public Policy in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She holds her B.A. from Cornell University, her M.P.P. from Georgetown University, and her Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). She has written extensively on the topic of family policy, including her book The Politics of Child Support in America (Cambridge University Press, 2003).

For more information on this, visit www.jocelyncrowley.com.


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