COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When parents divorce, it's often the children who pay the highest price.
But many parents in Ohio learn how to soften the blow with "Successful Co-Parenting: A Family Stability Program," a two- to three-hour class offered in 12 counties by Ohio State University Extension.
"Overall, the main message is to not put children in the middle, not use them as a pawn," said Kara Newby, human development and family science program specialist for OSU Extension. "Sometimes in the game of divorce, you can forget how important the development of your child is, and you become selfish in your own pain. So, we remind parents that while they may need to set some boundaries, they still need to see their partner as a partner, not as an enemy."
In Ohio, domestic relations courts in most counties mandate some type of parenting class for parents going through divorce or dissolution. Of the approximately 40,000 marriages that break up in Ohio each year, more than 45 percent involve minor children. "Successful Co-Parenting" is a new curriculum designed by Newby and 14 other OSU Extension Family and Consumer Science professionals statewide designed to be taught within two to three hours.
Before the curriculum was available, educators developed and used their own coursework or curricula from other states, depending on the county. A statewide curriculum not only ensures Extension personnel are offering the same material, it makes it easier to evaluate the program, Newby said. The curriculum also is detailed enough that it allows educators who may not have a specialization in family relations to easily to offer the program locally, Newby said.
During 2011, about 1,500 individuals took parenting classes offered by OSU Extension through local courts, Newby said. Nearly 1,400 submitted evaluations of the Successful Co-Parenting program; 92 percent reported that they learned new information in the class, and 89 percent reported that they felt more prepared to co-parent as a result of the program. Typical comments about the most important take-home messages parents learned included:
- Children come first.
- Model respect.
- Work hard with the other parent to get along.
- Understand your partner's frustration and don't take it out on your child.
- Communicate with each other.
- Don't use children for information about the other parent.
- Talk more with children about what's going on.
- Listen to your children.
- Don't fight with the other parent in front of the children.
- Don't put your ex down or belittle him (or her) in front of the children.
- Make sure children know both parents love them.
To illustrate the importance of good parenting during and after a divorce or dissolution, Newby worked with Nancy Recker, who recently retired as an OSU Extension educator in Allen County, and Jamie Seger, an OSU Extension program assistant in Miami County, to produce a four-minute video, "Successful Co-Parenting: A Child's View."
In the video, children hold signs reflecting their inner fears and concerns regarding divorce. For the content, Recker talked with children and teens involved in OSU Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program, and Seger recruited friends, family and 4-H members to appear in the video.
"I think it's really effective," Newby said. "You don't hear the children's voices, you just read the signs they're holding -- so you really hear your own voice when you watch the video."
The video is shown during the parenting class to illustrate how divorce affects children. It also is available online at http://go.osu.edu/childsview_video.
Other organizations offer similar programs to courts in Ohio, but Newby believes Extension offers a distinct advantage.
"OSU Extension brings the academic research piece to the table," Newby said. "To have a curriculum that is based on research, based on what we know about best practices in terms of co-parenting after divorce, is an important consideration. Also, Extension does a good job in keeping the boundary between counseling and education. This class is really about educating and trying to help couples prevent problems before they have a chance to become ingrained."
Research shows that many of the negative effects of divorce on children are mitigated if parents are able to separate and co-parent in an amicable way, Newby said.
"Divorce is never an easy thing, but it's important for parents to know that they have the ability to make it a little bit easier on their children."
Newby believes parenting classes are a vital component of the separation process.
"The idea of taking some time to talk to the parents about the importance of co-parenting and getting along is an important concept," Newby said. "I strongly support mandating these classes, whether they're offered by OSU Extension or another respected organization."
OSU Extension offers parenting classes through agreements with domestic court judges in Allen, Belmont, Darke, Delaware, Geauga, Holmes, Lake, Mercer, Miami, Noble, Perry and Preble counties.