When your marriage ends, you still need to take care of your children. Many parents, however, struggle with their own feelings of anger and sadness, and this makes parenting a difficult task. In trying to make up for the loss of the family unit, you may overindulge your children or try to buy love. Or unknowingly you may become victim to your child's manipulation.

Take personal responsibility for your job as a parent, meeting your child's needs in the healthiest possible way:

  • Stop worrying about criticism from the other parent. Criticism is common where hostility during the divorce increases. If your ex criticizes your parenting techniques, think first about whether there is some validity to the criticism. For example, is the bedtime for your child reasonable, are mealtimes predictable, and is discipline appropriate? Ignore baseless criticism.

  • Take self-responsibility. You might have negative thoughts and feelings about your ex, but your primary task is to be the best possible parent you can be during the time your child is with you. Pay attention to your own parenting job and attempt to improve it. This will show your children that you love them and are working to be a parent in the healthiest possible way. Don't focus on blaming the other parent.

  • Be a parent, not a friend. It's common for a parent to befriend a child during divorce. This makes it difficult for you to discipline or set rules for your child. Also common is to confide more information about your life than the child can handle - an unnecessary burden for the child. At this point, your child needs a parent as never before. So set rules and enforce them, encourage sharing on the child's part concerning feelings or fears.

  • Discipline and love your child. Both the adult and child may come to realize that there are different kinds of love and while the parents have fallen out of love, the parent-child relationship continues. The child may worry that your relationship with him or her may end as well. If discipline is not given in a loving manner, your child may feel insecure about your love. Parents often forget to discipline their child in the emotional turmoil of divorce. Setting up rules for and structure to the child's life are so important at this time. By disciplining your child in a healthy way, you are showing him or her that you love him or her. By showing your child love and positive attention, you reduce the need to punish.

  • Avoid your child's blackmail. When parents divorce and their children spend time in two different homes, it is easy for them to pit one parent against the other. Your child might do this - maybe unconsciously - to encourage you and your ex to be in contact with one another in the hope that the two of you might get back together. However, your child also can become mercenary at times, demanding things from each of you. In a divorce situation, parents often are competitive with each other and cave in to the child's demands. It's easy to worry that your child will love the other parent more than you. Remember, your child will come to respect you if you set limits.

  • Remain flexible. When dealing with transportation between two households, and the rules in each, it is difficult to have a single set of rules or a sense of direction or wholeness. Your child must adapt and comply with two homes - no easy task. You can help your child by being flexible in your demands from the child - and your ex.

From Parenting After Divorce by Philip M. Stahl, copyright (c) 2000. Used by permission of Impact Publishers, Atascadero, Calif., 1-800-246-7228.

Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D., is a psychologist specializing in high conflict divorce in private practice in Dublin, Calif. He conducts continuing education training for psychologists, attorneys, judges, and evaluators who work with these families. He is the author of Complex Issues in Custody Evaluations and Conducting Child Custody Evaluations: A Comprehensive Guide.