Seven Keys to Successfully Navigating the Whitewater of Divorce | Maplewood Minnesota

Going through divorce presents hazards as dangerous as navigating whitewater on a river. 

Whitewater on a river is created when there is a combination of three things: 1) Water is rushing faster than usual because of the downhill decline, 2) There are boulders in the riverbed, 3) There are usually twists and turns in the pathway of the river.   This combination is dangerous to boaters and others traveling the river.  One must be vigilant to carefully navigate through whitewater in order to avoid injury or damage to property.

So it is when navigating the divorce process.  Things are moving swiftly and dangers abound.  It’s not only the adults who are at risk, but also the children.  When a family goes through a divorce or separation, parents often struggle to help their children adjust to the new living situation.

Research at the University of Minnesota has shown that when parents can increase their “navigating” skills for going through divorce, the negative effects of divorce on their children and on themselves can be reduced. What are the seven keys to navigating this whitewater?

1. Eliminate parental conflict in front of the child

Yes, there will be conflict, but the children have already seen too much.  Find ways to exercise self-control and keep further conflict out of sight and earshot of the children.  Anything parents can do to dial-down the conflict is helpful to everyone. 

2.  Keep the child out of the middle of parent issues

Please don’t complain about or badmouth your spouse in front of the children.  Yes it is a temptation to let them know just what a jerk your spouse can be and that you are an “innocent victim” in this whole thing.  It might make you feel better, but that is a burden too big for children to carry.  You are the adult, don’t expect the kids to solve your emotional needs and parent you.

3.  Provide access to both parents

But a child has the right to as healthy and loving a relationship as possible with BOTH parents.  Don’t make them take sides or use them as pawns in the battle.  As long as the children are not in danger, they benefit from time with both parents. 

4.  Put the best interest of the child first

People who are so focused on getting away from the other spouse often miss the reality of the negative effects on their children.  Perhaps putting the interests of the child first can actually help the adults to behave towards each other in ways that are less damaging and more productive.

5.  Make adjustments in their finances to account for the financial changes that divorce brings

Divorce nearly always means tightening the financial belt and cutting back on spending somewhere.  Creating detailed budgets for the new reality of each partner is helpful.  Many times one partner needs to look for a better job opportunity to make ends meet.

6.  Work with the divorce legal process rather than against it

This is no time to dig foxholes and lob grenades at each other.  Neither is it helpful for one spouse to attempt to use the legal system to punish the other.  Mediation, Early Neutral Evaluation, Collaborative Divorce Process and other resources are available to help you build bridges and solve problems.  Avoid an adversarial stance and attempt to collaborate wherever possible.

7.  Form a new “pathway” in life after divorce

Nobody ever won a race by focusing on the starting gate.  Runners look forward and “set their site” on the finish line. Lay down the heavy backpack of the past.  Set goals for a positive future.  Create a strategy to move toward those goals.  And start moving your life forward.

In Summary:

The healthier post-divorce families are those who improved communication and relationships with their ex-partners, improved ability to keep their children out of the middle of conflicts, gained better understanding of legal and financial issues, and made use of community resources designed for those experiencing divorce.

You can navigate the whitewater of divorce.  Be careful. Make good choices.  Get the help you need. 


Inspired by Parents Forever™ Implementation Study Summary July 2013



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