Lesson 6 of 7 - learn to parent effectively

Parenting Children of Dysfunction and Divorce

Help them Fill their Needs

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/parent/divorce/keys.htm

Updated 03-04-2015

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      This is one of a series of lesson-6 articles on how to parent effectively. From 36 years' clinical experience and research, this article offers practical keys to avoiding and resolving most divorce-related parenting disputes, like battles over child custody, visitation, responsibilities, and financial support.

       This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it   

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6 (or 7 if you're in a stepfamily)

  • Q&A about effective parenting and divorce

  • options for improving ex-mate relationships

  • typical kids' developmental and family-adjustment needs

  • resources: the effects of divorce on typical kids


      If you know minor or adult kids (including yourself) who's parents are separated and/or divorcing, keep them in mind as you read this.

      Here, "effective parenting" means "filling the normal and special needs of each minor child well enough over 20 years while parents fill their own needs well enough. Traditionally, people hold the birth parents responsible for raising a child. In reality, the whole extended (multigenerational) family shares this responsibility ("It takes a village to raise a child.") Do you agree?

      Several key needs of typical young kids are...

  • to feel consistently safe enough now and in the future; and

  • to feel wanted, noticed, and loved, and they need...

  • to learn how to solve personal and relationship problems effectively.; and...

  • to be guilt-free kids instead of over-responsible little adults caretaking one or both parents.

      Significant fighting, blaming, distrust, and hostility between parents before and after physical separation makes filling these needs hard or impossible. So the best parental option is...   

Divorce Prevention

      To prevent divorce stress, mates and their respective parents should...

  • Understand the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle and its effects;

  • Understand what's required to maintain a high-nurturance ("functional") family;

  • Assess themselves for significant psychological wounds.

  • commit to helping each other reduce their wounds over time.

  • Learn how to identify and assert their primary needs

  • Learn how to analyze and resolve typical relationship problems - specially these three common stressors;

  • Learn how to identify and grieve their life-losses, and create a healthy family grieving policy;

  • Learn what young kids need to develop well, and how to fill these needs effectively; and then mates...

  • Make wise conception or adoption decisions; and...

  • seek and accept parenting counsel from experienced caregivers.

      What percent of the parents you know (including your own) could how and why to do each of these tasks?

      Millions of parents separate and divorce every year. Many disagree significantly over child custody, visitations, financial support, holidays, religion, vacations, health, education, activities, and who is the more effective parent. They also may disagree over informal and legal parenting agreements that define which parent is responsible for what with each minor child.

      These parenting disputes range from trivial to bitter, verbal to legal, and episodic to chronic. They often polarize families into combative camps, which compounds the disagreements and stresses for everyone - specially the minor kids involved. These disputes lower the family's nurturance level, which puts kids at risk of developmental slowdown and psychological wounding.

      Major divorce-related parenting disputes can involve lawyers, mediators, mental-health evaluators, social workers, and family-court judges. This can amplify and prolong family stress because of these "outsiders'" differing opinions, values, and advice.

      Many divorcing parents have trouble keeping relationship disputes and frustrations separate from parenting disagreements. Another major factor in family disputes is the age, gender, and personalities of minor kids. They can vary from passive and quiet to reactive, outspoken, opinionated, and aggressive. They may favor one parent over the other. The same is true of relatives and inlaws - specially grandparents.

      It's estimated that well over half of divorcing American parents commit to a new mate within several years of their separation, forming or expanding a stepfamily. Their new partner may or may not have kids of their own and one or more ex mates. Stepparents have their own needs and agenda, and may or may not support their mate against "the other parent."

      Typical stepfamily roles and relationships are complicated and conflictual. Adults and kids face a range of alien new problems that they usually aren't prepared to resolve effectively. Few clinical and legal professionals are trained to provide effective help. U.S. re/divorce rates are estimated to be higher (60+ %) than first divorces (45-50%). Most of them are stepfamilies.

Typical post-divorce parenting disputes are hard to resolve because average family members and supporters struggle over a range of surface problems (symptoms). They're unaware of the primary causes of  these problems, so they keep recurring. This puts dependent kids at significant risk of inheriting the toxic effects of the epidemic [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is weakening many societies.  

Bottom line - parenting minor kids effectively is a multi-decade challenge under the best circumstances. It is a far greater challenge during family reorganization from divorce and stepfamily formation.

      Before reading further, pause and reflect: what do you think really causes most parenting conflicts in divorcing families? Compare your ideas to these:

  The Primary Problems 

      This brief YouTube video summarizes some of what you'll read below.

      If typical disputes between divorcing parents are superficial, what are the underlying real problems adults need to resolve? From 36 years' experience as a family-systems therapist with hundreds of divorcing families and stepfamilies, I propose that the root causes are a mix of these:

     1) The master problem is that average family adults aren't aware of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle passing down and harming their generations, and no one is alerting them to this. That means...

     2) One or more divorcing parents - and usually other family adults - are psychologically wounded and unaware of _ what that means or _ what to do about it. Key family advisors and supporters may be significantly wounded and unaware also.

     3) Typical divorcing parents and other family adults and supporters are also unaware of key knowledge, including these primary problems. They don't know what they don't know, or what their ignorance means for themselves and their descendents.

      Their lack of knowledge promotes...

  • complaining, blaming, guilts, shame, fighting, arguing, and avoiding, vs. effective thinking and win-win problem-solving..Related problems are inability to separate surface needs from primary needs, and marital problems from parenting ones;

  • an inability to admit and resolve interactive barriers to harmonious ex-mate and parent-child relations;

  • an inability to spot and cooperatively resolve inevitable family loyalty and values conflicts and toxic relationship triangles.

  • incomplete grieving of personal and family losses (broken bonds) in family adults and kids. This promotes a web of other problems, like "rageaholism," addictions, "depression," isolation, obesity, and ill health;

And adults' psychological wounds + ignorance also promote...

  • fights over ineffective parenting in and between one or more family homes. This often causes disputes over making and following parenting agreements (among other things), and hinders consistently filling kids' normal developmental and family-adjustment needs; and...

  • choosing expensive wounded, unaware counselors and financial and legal professionals to help resolve the family's surface problems, Their advice rarely includes the suggestions below, so family problems stay unresolved, and cynicism, stress, and weariness grow; and unaware parents risk...

  • making unwise decisions about forming or joining a stepfamily, and becoming overwhelmed with concurrent role and relationship problems;

      And family ignorance contributes to...

  • adult and child "mental health" problems, poor school performance, socializing problems, drug abuse, suicide, and parental neglect and/or abandonment.

      these stressors combine to lower a family's nurturance level, so adults and kids often don't get their primary needs met well enough, often enough. This helps the [wounds + unawareness] cycle pass down to the next generation.

       Pause, breathe, and reflect. What are you thinking and feeling? Does this set of proposed primary parenting problems seem realistic? Credible? Can you think of other factors that cause struggles with the surface parenting problems named above?

      Note that if you are wounded and unaware, a protective false self is likely to discount, ignore, and/or dispute these core problems, and deny or justify doing so.

      What can divorcing-family and stepfamily adults do about these root problems?


      To avoid or reduce the core causes of all major parenting conflicts related to divorce, family adults (including grandparents) can help each other work patiently at these tasks:

Study and discuss this overview of the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle. Reluctance to do this probably indicates psychological wounds, which will sabotage all other options below.

Use Lesson 1 to _ assess each family adult for psychological wounds and to _ patiently help each other reduce any that they find. Without this step, the following options won't work.
Assess: all family adults and key supporters (including professionals) learn what they need to learn by taking and discussing these quizzes. Do this to dispel the common myth "I (or We) already know how to parent and be a healthy family." Parental desertion, separation, and divorce are clear indictors of major family-system dysfunction.

Learn: all family adults study and discuss Lessons 1 thru 6 (or 7, if you're a stepfamily) in order, over several months. Put special emphasis on Lesson 2 (effective communication), Lesson 3 (effective grieving), and Lesson 6 (effective parenting). 

Learn how to analyze and resolve most relationship problems, including these three widespread family stressors. They are surely affecting all your adults and children. Then model and teach these learnings to your kids and supporters.

If you hire therapists, counselors, mediators, attorneys, and/or social workers to help resolve major child-related disputes, ask each of them to join you in working on these options. If they balk, they're probably wounded and unaware. Look elsewhere.

If you're considering (or are already) using the legal system to force someone to comply, read this and STOP, unless someone's current safety is clearly at risk. Legal battles between ex mates and other relatives always make things worse!

If you're considering forming a stepfamily or are already part of one, all family adults study and discuss Lesson 7, heed these danger signs, and be alert for these common problems.  Put your integrity first, your marriage second, and all else third, except in emergencies.

      If you want to permanently end or avoid major family conflicts over child custody, visitations, financial support, holidays, vacations, loyalties, and other things, ask all your family adults (not just parents) and supporters to (a) read and discuss this article, and then (b) commit to working at these concurrent options. If they won't, see this and this after you finish here.

      What are you thinking and feeling now? Is your true Self guiding you?


      This Lesson-6 article proposes that all common parenting disputes between divorcing mates are symptoms of (a) parents' psychological wounds from traumatic childhoods, and (b) ignorance of the vital topics in this free online course. This premise is based on 36 years' professional research with over 500 average American divorcing families and stepfamilies.

       The article proposes eight specific remedies that divorcing-family and stepfamily adults can work at to (a) greatly improve the nurturance level of their family, and to (b) protect their descendents from inheriting the lethal effects of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

 Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

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