Last in a series.
WATERLOO, Iowa --- Divorces go down all sorts of ways. Hostile. Cordial. Mutual. Unexpected.
No matter the circumstances, when spouses part ways and children are involved, the transition gets decidedly more complicated. Even the most well-meaning moms and dads can miss how conflict and tension between adults can affect the youngest members of the family, according to Patty Nierling, a program coordinator with the Waterloo-based Family & Children's Council.
"A lot of the time you are just so caught up in the emotions of it all," Nierling said.
Through the Family & Children's Council, Nierling coordinates Living Apart Parenting Together, a free, six-week adult education course. The class helps divorcing and separating families make a smooth transition as they restructure households. Never-married parents who live apart also benefit.
Living Apart Parenting Together instructors teach parents to defuse conflict and develop a healthy relationship for the sake of the children. Instead of focusing on past issues, parents are encouraged to focus on current family needs and to develop a co-parenting plan, Nierling said.
Topics covered include communication, child discipline, setting boundaries, parenting styles, anger management and the process and stages of divorce or separation.
Offered since 2006, instructors with Living Apart Parenting Together have served 158 parents and, indirectly, 266 children.
Over the years, the Family & Children's Council --- which works to strengthen families and reduce child abuse, according to the agency's mission statement --- has witnessed the devastating affect divorce is having on families, Nierling said.
The Living Apart program is just one response to that. According to course curriculum, unrelenting conflict is the most common reason children experience problems adjusting after a divorce or separation.
As a course coordinator, Nierling takes the position that the best parent is "both parents" and that everyone has something to learn.
"All it takes is the investment of time and willingness to try new skills," Nierling said.
Ideally, both parents would take the class at some point --- although rarely at the same time --- Nierling said even one person working toward change can make a positive difference.
Crystal Mullins, a mother of two young children who is going through a divorce, said the Living Apart course helped her gain more self-confidence to make decisions for her family.
"They helped me through so much," Nierling said.
She also appreciated the emotional support provided by a small-group environment, where participants could share their struggles and feelings in a neutral, non-judgemental environment.
"There's a lot of different people in there but we are all going through the same thing," Mullins said.
The next session will begin on Feb. 6. Classes will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. on Mondays for six weeks. For more information or to sign up, contact the Family & Children's Council at (319) 234-7600.