New York, Aug. 23, 2007 (CBS News)
Children, we all know, tend to idealize their parents. Even the most flippant teens will often tell you that their parents are their heroes. But what happens when the superheroes develop feet of clay and behave like humans?Parents going through a divorce, with all the inherent anger, sadness and frustration, are often at a loss as to how to protect their children from the hard truths of a painful situation. There are shelves and shelves of books on how to be a co-parent, but a fraction of the advice available on how to shepherd kids through the breakup of a family.
Early Show special contributor Jill Brooke has been looking at the modern divorce – how mediation can (and should) be used instead of litigation and the ways in which a couple can still be effective parents, even if they don’t live under the same roof.
For the third part of her series, “Reconcilable Differences,” Brooke spoke to children who have experienced divorce first-hand to find out what their parents have been doing right – and what they could improve upon.
After twenty years of marriage, Meg and Russ Fein are divorcing. But they are working together to explain this transition to their children. So far, the kids seem to get it.
“Parents don’t have to be married to be a parent,” explained Sarah Jane, 14.
“No kid ever wants their parents to get divorced,” added her sister, Hannah, 16. “But, it was best for them. So, I was able to handle it pretty well.”
“It’s sad to think it’s such a drastic difference than what it was for most of their lives, so I have mixed emotions,” said Russ Fein.
So does his 11-year-old son, Jake. “If you just think about the times where like if you’re with mom … then … I’m with mom. And then my dad comes to visit …That makes it a lot easier than if you’re thinking about all the bad thoughts … Which will probably make it worse for you. But for me that helps,” he said.
Dr. Mark Banschick, a New York area psychiatrist, often finds himself coaching newly single parents on how best to talk to and take care of their children.
He has created a strict code of conduct he calls “The Children’s Bill of Rights.” Among the rules: children have the right not to be asked to choose sides between parents … the right not to be cross-examined by one parent after spending time with the other parent … and the right to privacy when talking to either parent on the telephone.
Other programs use video to educate divorcing parents on the special needs of their children. One from the Center for Divorce Education (www.divorce-education.com) is seen in over 1000 locations across the country and 24 states now require these classes for divorcing parents.
“It’s the professionals who are coming to a realization that some kind of paradigm shift has to happen,” said Allison Bell, a Clinical Psychologist and Collaborative Divorce Professional. “In ‘Kramer vs. Kramer,’ if that were remade today, perhaps there would be a way of having that little boy have a voice.”
Bell and works closely with Dr. Jonah Schrag, a Clinical Psychologist and Divorce Mediator. They know first-hand the challenges of
parenting through a divorce. Once married to each other, they have a daughter, Sarah.
“I learned very early on, you know that my parents aren’t perfect,” said Sarah. “They’re not the superheroes that I would love to think
of them. But I guess in their own way they kind of are, because they worked out their mistakes.”
The Feins hope that their three children will eventually reach a similar conclusion. For the time being, some progress has been made.
“It’s hard in the beginning to adjust to not having your parents all the time,” explains Hannah Fein. “But it does get better.”