Fathers and Divorce Coaching

By Marvin L. Chapman, Ph.D

Parenting is a major influence in the lives of children and adolescents. In an intact family, mothers and fathers take on separate and different roles–mother’s performing some tasks and father’s performing others. When a relationship dissolves, so may these separate roles. When the family reorganizes, the mother and father roles are many times also reorganized. What were once separate and different roles now must be completed by one parent alone (e.g. the father must now wash the car and wash the dishes; he must change the oil and change the diaper). Therefore, when a relationship is dissolved and the parenting roles reorganized, there is no way of preventing the transition from affecting the children (Schwartz & Finley, 2009).

Exposure to interparental conflict and quality of parenting has been recognized as the two main factors influencing children’s post-divorce adjustment (Amato & Keith, 1991; Kelly & Emery, 2003). Additionally, it has been presented that there is growing evidence that the quality of the parent-child relationship is directly correlated with children’s post-divorce adjustment, that parent-child relationships can be improved with an increased focus on parenting skills, and that quality parenting can be strengthened by teaching parenting skills (Sandler, Miles, Cookston, & Braver, 2008).

Bacon & McKenzie (2004) indicated that parental education programs were extremely beneficial and needed to focus on increased parental cooperation and coparenting skills. They also indicated that such coparenting education programs should commence as soon as practical. Blaisure & Geasler (1996) reported that interparental conflict, parenting skills, and the nature and extent of the involvement of the noncustodial parent (typically the father) are major factors that affect post-divorce adjustment outcomes for children.

Wilson (2008) noted that nonresident fathers reported having to deal with unfamiliar and unsettling issues in order to maintain a relationship with their children:

If, for instance, a nonresident father continued to hold a previous breadwinning idea about his paternal role, perhaps choosing to stay on at work in the evening rather than keep an appointment to take his children swimming, he would find his actions much less likely now to meet with the approval of the mother or his children. A new priority needs now to be uppermost in his thoughts for him to succeed, such as ‘this will/won’t upset the children.’ However, changing a construct system that has been working for some time may be a considerable challenge. (p. 611)

In a study by Lundahl, Tollefson, Risser, & Lovejoy (2008), it was discovered that fathers who received parent training reported significantly more positive changes in their children’s behaviors and more desirable parenting practices. This study urged that fathers be encouraged to attend parent training.

According to Braver, Griffin, & Cookston (2005), “It is clear from a review of this literature that divorced fathers typically have a substantial impact on their children’s adjustment after divorce” (p. 81).  They go on to state, “Thus, there is plausibly considerable benefit to children that will accrue by a preventative program designed to work with fathers” (p. 81).

However, as discovered by Price & McKenry (1988), men are not as inclined as women to enter therapy or to seek out professional assistance.  Indeed, Price and McKenry (1988) indicated that men are generally socialized to be emotionally unexpressive and to solve their situations (problems) independently on their own and in their own way.

Divorce coaching may offer a solution for fathers to gain the post-relationship information, education, and parenting skills needed, while at the same time avoiding traditional therapy. For fathers, there may be a significant difference between entering divorce therapy and hiring a divorce coach. Men will hire a coach in sports, to improve performance. Men will hire a coach at the gym, to improve performance. Men will hire a coach in business, to improve performance. Hiring a coach (when going through a divorce) would be a logical step for a father who wants to “improve performance” when going through the family court process. In fact, this may one of the reasons for the growing phenomenon of divorce coaching.

Part of the restructuring process for a father may be for him to see himself as a whole (no longer just half) of a total parenting package. A divorce coach would be able to provide the father with an education about the psychological effects of divorce on their children. Also, an experienced divorce coach would educate the father about the interrelationships and consequences of reacting emotionally (aggressive) as opposed to proactively being firm (assertive) in dealing with the other parent (After Divorce Coaching (ADC), 2009; Child Custody Coach (CCC), 2009; Tesler, 1999; Webb & Ousky, 2006). These and other issues presented by an experienced and competent divorce coach could greatly assist a father in restructuring himself into a total parenting package for his children.

An experienced divorce coach is uniquely qualified to provide coparenting education. Such a coach could provide individualized programs focused on increasing cooperation and support between the parents, providing guidance that goes beyond just learning new coparenting skills. The experience of a competent divorce coach could make a significant impact on a family trying to survive the stress and drama of the family court system (ADC, 2009; CCC, 2009; Tesler, 1999; Webb & Ousky, 2006).

In their study, Braver, Griffin, & Cookston (2005) indicated a nonresidential father’s relationship to the mother should be a major target for preventative intervention, as should upgrading the quality of nonresident fathers’ parenting skills. While a father may not enter therapy to gain such knowledge and experience, hiring a divorce coach may offer him a more palatable option.

A professional and experienced divorce coach will discuss with the father issues such as unexpected sources of conflict, overnight custodial issues, unanticipated emotional experiences, and the reality that coparenting with the mother will continue even after the intimate relationship with her is over. In doing these acts, the divorce coach is directly targeting the father’s relationship with the mother as a preventative intervention. A professionally trained, experienced, and competent divorce coach will be able to assist in upgrading the quality of the father’s parenting skills (ADC, 2009; CCC, 2009; Tesler, 1999). When such is the case, the major targets for preventative interventions as indicated by Braver, Griffin, & Cookston (2005) would be accomplished.

Marvin Chapman is a Doctor of Psychology, Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, Certified Family Counselor and co-founder of a nonprofit organization emphasizing responsible fatherhood.  Visit Marvinl at www.marvinchapman.net.