January 19, 2021
By Macayla Belt, MWI Co-Mediator, updated July 29, 2021
In my work as a divorce and family mediator, I have the opportunity to work with parents seeking divorce or parents caught in conflict. In Massachusetts, through August of 2021, parents getting divorced were required to complete a five-hour court-approved parent educational program. These programs educated parents about the impact of family restructuring on children during and after divorce. I attended a program to learn more about what is presented and discussed in these classes.
During the five hours, (divided into two 2.5 hour classes that met on separate dates) parents learned about the impact their separation may have on their children, warning signs to watch for, how to help children thrive, and so much more. After observing the program in action, my eyes are now more open to how much of a toll conflict relating to divorce or parenting can take on each parent and on the children. One lesson I was reminded of is that a collaborative divorce and keeping conflict away from children play a big role in children doing well during and after their parents divorce. As a mediator, I can take great pride in my work helping parents put their children first and helping families work together to help their children.
In class we talked about how the separation process, at times, can be difficult for children, both mentally and physically. For some children, the divorce means having to pack up their whole life and split it between two new homes. This alone can be tough for children to deal with. What can make the situation even more difficult is when a new home means a new school and having to make new friends as well. Being a new kid at a school is scary, especially if the kids are older and heavily involved in extracurricular activities with their previous school. All of these changes take time to get used to but children are resilient and can do it with proper support from both parents. In class we talked about how this adjustment period may take around two years for the child to become completely comfortable with their new lifestyle.
Mentally, children are going to be dealing with so many different emotions at once. It is so crucial to maintain good mental health. Attempting to process all of these emotions at once could lead to the children developing anxiety, insecurity, guilt, anger, etc. During the course, the class facilitators discussed the importance of parents watching for certain signs in their children, and if they notice any, they get their children the proper help they need. Getting divorced is by no means a quick and easy process, especially for the children involved which is why it’s a good idea to keep checking in on how they’re doing.
What I found to be the most impactful subject, was when we discussed how the age of the children plays a major role in how they will react to the divorce. We learned how for infants, even though they don’t understand what is happening around them, their parent’s emotions and energy reflects back on them. Meaning, if the parents are often showing signs of tension and conflict between each other with their infant present, their emotions will reflect back and impact the infant’s emotions in a negative way also. Preschoolers who have parents that get divorced often fear that they will be abandoned. They tend to think that they are the ones to blame for the divorce happening, and their parents are fighting because of something they have done. The divorce process is even stressful for teenagers due to the many changes they’re faced with, like having their life essentially be split in half.
This program was extremely informative, and I know from the group discussions that took place, almost all of the parents who attended got something out of the classes. Less than half of all children in the U.S. live in a traditional family. In fact, over fifty percent of children will experience divorce before the age of eighteen. Parents need to realize what the consequences are of the emotions they choose to exert in front of their children and figure out how to make the divorce as easy as it can be for their children.
Topics covered during the program:
In summary, as a mediator, I am glad that I am now more aware of what was discussed during a court-approved parent education program. If you are going through a divorce or paternity action, I encourage you to learn more about how to support your children during the transition. If I, as a mediator, can be helpful – please reach out.
About the Author:
Ms. Belt is a co-mediator on MWI’s Court Mediation Panel and on MWI’s Divorce & Family Mediation Panel. As such, Macayla is available to co-mediate small claim, parent/teen, divorce, and other family matters. During COVID-19, services are provided remotely.
To learn more about Ms. Belt and her mediation work, click here.