Psychological Self-Help

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Children who have frequent contact with their divorced-but-still-
fighting parents are at very serious risk too. Indeed, the more contact
they have and the more switches between mom and dad's home, if
they are still warring over custody and visitation, the more
behaviorally and emotionally disturbed the children become (Johnson,
Kline, & Tschann, 1989). Thus, not only must both parents stay
involved with the children, they must co-parent without rancor. If the
hostility of either parent is uncontrollable, psychotherapy is
necessary immediately and until the anger subsides. We can no
longer consider bitter ex-spouses as benign; they are dangerous to
their children. Yet, healed or calmed or silenced, they are necessary to
their children. Society (courts) must serve the children, not just
warring parents. 
Not every child needs two live-in parents, but almost every child
needs a highly involved, loving mother and father, not just an
every-other-weekend visit to eat out. Both parents must talk to
the children about their lives, discipline the children, be there in good
times and bad, involve the child in decision-making and serious
discussions, hold them when they hurt, etc., etc. Researchers
(Hetherington, Cox & Cox, 1985) have found that girls without a father
in the home, like boys, suffer long-range consequences; they tend to
be negative towards their fathers. Such girls feel more uncomfortable
with male adults and peers but act more sexually provocative and
promiscuous than girls with fathers at home; therefore, they have
more unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, girls fought over in
highly contested custody battles, tend to form close, dependent
relationships with their fathers and become hostile towards their
mothers. Being fought over doesn't seem to affect boys in the same
way. Recent research findings have suggested that boys without
fathers in the home tend to become "hypermasculine," i.e. more
tough, more drug-using, more violent, more criminal. 
Social analysts (Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996) contend that
many of our major social problems, such as crime, violent gangs,
alcohol and drug use, poverty, low achievement, and marital
instability, are attributable to parents splitting and fathers deserting
their children. 40% of all children today live in a home without a
father. Fathers are not expendable. Involved and responsible fathers
bring traits and attitudes to a family--alternate ways of coping--that
appear to be very important to the child and society. Moreover, a
parent who isn't involved sends a message to his/her child: "you aren't
interesting or important!" That surely hurts the child's self-esteem.
There is building public pressure for society to make divorce harder to
get or, at least, to make it mandatory that both parents pay their fair
share and stay involved as a parent. Finding solutions by passing laws,
however, seems much more difficult than teaching young people to
avoid pregnancy until they have found a partner who will make a
commitment to any child until he/she is 18, including seeking
counseling as soon as problems arise. Marriage can be temporary but
parenting must be forever. 
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