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If You Get Divorced, You Might Be Forced to Take a Parenting Class

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Divorce is sometimes shocking, and nearly always unpleasant — there's sort of no way around it, right? But what I found most shocking and unpleasant about my already heartbreaking divorce process was that as part of it, I'd have to attend parenting workshops in order to get a judge to ever sign off on it. Um, excuse me?

Don't get me wrong, I'm no super-mom. But being told I needed to attend a workshop for moms and dads to learn how to improve my skills was — at best — a little insulting. After all, just because two people decide not to stay in a romantic relationship together, it doesn't mean they can't be wonderful, admirable parents who raise happy, successful, and wholesome kids. And just because a person has decided to end his or her marriage, it doesn't necessarily mean he or she had been doing anything wrong as a parent.

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I live in a state (Massachusetts) where a two-day parenting workshop is mandatory for all people wishing to legalize a divorce. I finally took the classes last week, and while I was embarrassed and annoyed about going —and had been dreading the whole ordeal for weeks after I registered — I found out that it wasn't so bad, and that some of my feelings about the process were unwarranted. Here's why.

Why divorced parenting classes aren't all that bad

Spending time solely focused on your parenting skills is useful, no matter how you slice it. We (all moms and dads) spend so much time being parents that we don't often get time to sit back and think about how we're doing based on no one else's opinions but our own. Sure, you can be annoyed at the strict laws that told you that you'd have to brush up on your skills — but is that really such a bad thing to spend some time doing? You don't even have to agree with what's said during the seminars; just spending time reflecting in your own mind about your own family is a positive thing, I slowly came to realize. All parents could use a general "checkup" on how things are going, whether they feel like admitting it or not.

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It was helpful to hear other parents talk. We all need a listening ear, or someone to say "Hey, me too!" during a stressful life event — and as stressful life events go, divorce is up there at the top. Who better to understand what you're going through better than others who are also wading through it as well, even if they're total strangers? Sure, all of our lives and marriages and families were different, but none of us was in any position to judge each other, so there was an unspoken camaraderie right from the start. While I didn't get to even a first-name basis with any of the other parents in my class, I appreciated their opinions and their stories. It really helped to hear how we were all surviving such a tough life moment.

Divorce is hard on kids, even if they don't show it. Even if your kids are very young, or nearly-adults, a divorce makes some sort of impact on their lives. So while your child may not cry or get angry at you about the divorce, he or she may show the effects the upheaval is having in a whole host of other ways. For young children, it may be reverting back into bedwetting after being potty trained, or having a harder time separating from one parent when he or she leaves for work; for older kids, it may be getting obsessive about schoolwork or hobbies, spending much more time outside the home, or suddenly swapping groups of friends. Even if your child isn't exhibiting any big changes in his behavior, I'd now know what to look for that may indicate a problem down the road. Arming myself with that info was indisputably a great thing for me and my son.

While I dragged my feet signing up for my divorced parenting workshops, I left feeling slightly better about the situation. Divorce is hard enough as it is for everyone involved and a little extra support along the way — especially for your kids —is helpful.

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