Program designed to help parents, their children deal with separation

By Tim Yovich

A child’s attitude in a divorce is shaped by how the parents handle it, experts say.

WARREN — A new educational program supported by the Trumbull County Family Court is designed to help parents and their children cope with the many difficulties of separation.

“If you can’t cooperate, you miss some of the nice things in your child’s life,” said Mary Olesh, executive director of Solace Center in Warren. “ They [parents] don’t have to like each other.”

Olesh and John Polanski, a family court mediator, developed Partners in Parenting to work with parents as they go through divorce or dissolution. It’s designed to help separating parents understand the impact separation has on children.

The 21‚Ñ2-hour classes began in June and will be held during the evenings on the first Tuesday of the month and in the afternoons on the third Thursday of the month at the center at High Street and Vine Avenue. The fee is $20 for the class.

“Most parents are able to rise above their own struggles,” Olesh said. “They recognize the only way their children will adjust to their divorce is if they work together and make a commitment to do just that.”

They can do it with information at their hands, she added.

“When fathers and mothers learn what it means to cooperate, there is a direct result in their children’s comfort and ability to enjoy a good relationship with both of them,” Polanski said.

They said more than 80 percent of divorces involve children, or about 36,000 children annually in Ohio.

The parents attend the program separately, Olesh explained, so they can be candid about their feelings and feel comfortable in situations in which domestic violence is an issue.

Separation brings a great deal of anxiety of the unknown to the parents, Olesh and Polanski said, but they begin to feel better when they see they aren’t alone because others are going through it. They are briefed on the legal process, review what’s involved in separations and what will happen to their children.

“Every parent considers the children. But their world is turned upside down,” Polanski commented.

Children in the same family react differently, Olesh pointed out. “The children’s attitude is [shaped by] how parents handle it with them.”

Olesh explained it takes two parents to raise children and the parents can’t have a competitive attitude.

Dr. Michael Stern, a Boardman pediatric psychologist, said the most common feeling for children in parental separations is the feeling of “abandonment.”

“It can be a real shock,” Stern said, noting parents of younger children should be mindful of symptoms such as reverting to baby talk, wanting to return to the bottle, acting out or crying.

Parents of older children should look for fundamental changes in their children during a separation: mood swings, including not getting along with their peers or family members, lack of communication, eating and sleeping more than normal, and breaking rules more often.

“Each kid may show it differently,” he said, noting it depends on the child’s age.

Stern said some parents have personality issues and they are “out to win at any cost.”

Polanski suggests parents don’t argue or discuss the court process in front of their children. “It’s so easy to blame each other,” he said.

The program will give the parents an objective look at their situation, Polanski said. Friends and family providing information to the spouses is not a good technique, he added, because they aren’t objective in expressing their opinions.

Polanski said parents in a divorce situation tend to look at the past, such as one parent’s having an affair. Instead, they should look “at right now,” he said.

Parents make the divorce process take longer than need be because they can’t resolve their own problems.

“They tend to make a long process even longer. It doesn’t help,” Polanski said.

The parents have to keep it simple to succeed in dealing with their children, Olesh added.

Stern agreed, explaining the process should be done as quickly as possible because “it keeps the kids in limbo.”

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