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Getting Divorced? Some New Parenting Styles To Consider

Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

Worried about how your divorce might affect your children, and if you should parent differently?

Without publicly available data, it is difficult to estimate the number of divorced individuals in Singapore, who have children under 21. What we know for sure is that in 2019, there were over 7,200 divorces, and 29% of these divorces occurred between couples married for five to nine years — if there were children from these marriages, they are likely in their formative years.

The formative years, also known as “early childhood years,” span the period up to eight years of age, and research has shown that healthy development in the early years (particularly from birth to five) provides the foundation for lifelong health.

Outcomes For Divorced Children In Singapore

Perhaps you’ve come across the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s intergenerational divorce study, which examined the economic and social outcomes of about 9,000 Singaporean citizens with divorced parents, at the point when these citizens turned 35 years old.

The study’s results were released in late-2020, and they revealed that in comparison with children of intact families, children of divorce:

  • Were less likely to get a university degree
  • Earned less
  • Had lower Central Provident Fund balances (i.e. less prepared for retirement)
  • Were less likely to marry
  • Were more likely to divorce, if married

However, one should also note that this study was criticised for:

  • Not controlling for the quality of family ties
  • Not controlling for income status and household stability
  • Not doing a direct comparison with the outcomes of children from intact but unhappy homes

No study is perfect, so please don’t let these statistics demoralise you. Your family situation is unique, and you have the ability to work towards good outcomes for your children, after divorce.

If your ex-spouse is still in the picture, but you find it difficult to view him or her in a positive light, try to reframe your relationship in a way that helps you to move forward. For instance, you can imagine yourselves as colleagues working towards a common goal — ensuring that your child feels safe and loved.

What Your Child Might Be Feeling

Curious about what divorce looks like to a child? Read this 15 year old’s account of life after her parents’ divorce, and her own grieving process. She writes:

“I didn’t understand how I fit in when it came to the shifting ground of my divorced family. There’s something about hearing your parents argue over who gets to take you on spring break that makes you feel like there’s no room in the conversation for your own anxieties.”

Take heart that the teen ends on a positive note, with the realisation that loss can lead to precious new gains.

Parenting Styles, After Divorce

To parent effectively after divorce, you might want to shift from thinking only about the four established parenting styles — authoritarian, authoritative (recommended), permissive, and uninvolved — to incorporate a new framework that focuses on your relationship with your ex-spouse:

  • “Perfect Pals” (low conflict): You are still friendly with your ex, and chances are, one or both of you has yet to enter into a relationship with a new partner. A new relationship will likely require you to recalibrate your relationship with your ex.
  • “Cooperative Colleagues” (low conflict): You are able to keep how you feel about your ex-spouse out of your parenting discussions, and even though you might disagree, you are able to have healthy discussions.
  • “Angry Associates” (high conflict): You are critical about your ex-spouse and you tend to let this influence your parenting discussions, as well as how you talk to your children about your ex-spouse.
  • “Fiery Foes” (high conflict): You are in full battle mode against your ex-spouse in every arena, from custody arrangements to school decisions. It is highly possible that any new relationship at this point will not be smooth sailing as well.

These post-divorce parenting “patterns” were identified by US family therapist Constance Ahrons. She is the author of “The Good Divorce” (available at NLB), a book that aims to show couples how they can meet the needs of their children while transitioning from a nuclear family to a “binuclear” family, i.e. one that spans two households.

Of course, this is not the only resource — there are plenty out there. But what you can take from the above model is this: if you are currently in a high-conflict relationship with your ex-spouse, do reflect on what you can do to shift into a low-conflict relationship for the sake of your children. If affordability is not an issue, professional counselling is always an option.

Should you and your ex-spouse be caught in a cycle of conflict, consider this pro tip: it is fine to have differing opinions, but you should also be willing to test each party’s proposed ideas, before you reach a conclusion about whether they are viable. If you can adopt a more “scientific” approach for parenting decisions, with the option to proceed to Plan B if Plan A fails, you will have a better chance of moving forward productively in your new co-parenting journey.

 

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