February 16, 2009
A Growing Essential Piece: Child Specialist
Conventional wisdom said, “Keep kids out of the divorce process.” We thought that it protected kids from the “fight” of the divorce to be told aspects of the process in pieces. We hoped they would go about their happy kid lives, insulated from the stress of their parents’ breakup.
But new, long-term studies have lead the mental health community to draw new conclusions, such as: 1) kids are never outside the a divorce transition, 2) kids’ physical and emotional anxiety lowers when they have people to talk to about the divorce, 3) parents can use some help in parenting while they are going through their own life-restructuring/stages of grief, and 4) professionals from all areas can be assisted in their work with clients understanding the larger family dynamic.
It’s natural for people’s hot button to be either money or time with the kids. Often, family law professionals see the same fights between people that led to the divorce, only being carried into the divorce process itself. The previous dynamic for discussions on these the issues don’t mellow because the marriage is ending, usually they’re exacerbated for a time.
There’s a fine line between productive discussion about parents’ legal rights and concerns, and a child’s time and life being made into an object to fight over—a struggle about where the kids are going to go to school, what time are the kids going to change from one parent to the other, is there an exact amount of shared vacation time– these discussions, if taken too far, can lead to unhappy parents, kids, and family.
Mediator-attorneys can help in this discussion, but more and more family law clients are choosing to work with a child specialist. A child specialist is a mental health professional that talks to the kids, telling them that their interaction is not confidential, but to give the kids a voice in the process (while emphasizing that it does not give the kids the choice in the process). The child specialist also meets with the parents together and individually, and the kids together, and individually sometimes. The child specialist is not there to pathologize, or “shrink,” either the parents or the kids– the child specialist is there to help the children deal with the divorce, help the parents see the actual needs of the children then and in the future, and to introduce the professional team– mediator, coaches, financial specialist, etc. to the family dynamic as it relates to the children.
One image given is: a child specialist helps a family carry their baggage through the divorce process to the other side. They do not unpack the baggage and start to go through it.
We’re often at our worst while we’re getting divorced. A child specialist on the divorce team of professionals makes sure that the kids and parents both are supported to deal with the natural grief and stress caused by the changes of divorce.