The Bill of Rights, as we all know it, are 10 amendments that were created to insure and protect the rights of every individual of their freedom and civil liberties. Those rights are enforced by our government and most people operate on a day to day basis under the assumption that those rights will continue to protect them whenever and wherever they are. Unlike our government, the rules and rights of a family is not always so clear and can become even blurrier during and following a divorce.
Divorce can be a very difficult time for everyone in the family and the children involved are especially vulnerable to negative effects that can last until adulthood. It causes everyone in the family to feel a deep sense of loss and chaos. The world as they know it is changing and can leave them feeling unsafe and as if their world is spiraling out of control. Many times, parents will see an increase of irritability, emotional outbursts, withdrawing, changes in appetite and sleep, and other adverse changes. In order to minimize adverse outcomes, it is critical that both the parents and children receive additional support during and after the transitioning process.
Parents can help ease the fear and insecurities of children by working on the child’s Bill of Rights during divorce. Ideally, both parents will work with the child to identify and confirm the rights of the child but that may not always be possible. What is important is that the child has a clear idea of what is expected and not expected of them during the separation and post-separation.
A helpful tool is to use the “Children’s Bill of Rights During Divorce,” Robert Emery, PhD, has created, which is listed below:
- The right to love and be loved by both of your parents without feeling guilt or disapproval.
- The right to be protected from your parents’ anger with each other.
- The right to be kept out of the middle of your parents’ conflict, including the right not to pick sides, carry messages, or hear complaints about the other parent.
- The right not to have to choose one of your parents over the other.
- The right not to have to be responsible for the burden of either of your parents’ emotional problems.
- The right to know well in advance about important changes that will affect your life; for example, when one of your parents is going to move or get remarried.
- The right to reasonable financial support during your childhood and through your college years.
- The right to have feelings, to express your feelings, and to have both parents listen to how you feel.
- The right to have a life that is a close as possible to what it would have been if your parents stayed together.
- The right to be a kid.
I encourage you to use the list as a starting point and create your own with your children. It will allow a more personalized and intimate discussion and encourage the children to open up about their feelings about the changes that are happening in your family. It will also assist your children in feeling more safe and protected as well as empowered. They will feel an increased sense of control over the uncontrollable situation and have a clearer understanding that, amidst all the chaos, they are still loved and supported by their parents.
While divorce can be a challenging time for everyone, it can also be an opportunity for growth. You and your children can use this time to create a stronger bond and strengthen communication and ability to be open in ways that you weren’t able to prior to the divorce. It will also model to your children that, while you do not have all the answers to everything, you are willing to listen and work together, as a team, to identify your family’s new rules and boundaries.
Feel free to use the template that’s been provided below to begin your family’s Bill of Rights.