Over his decades-long career as a social worker, counselor and mediator, David Kuroda MSW ’72 has helped some 8,000 families navigate the stress of separation and divorce.
He has seen firsthand that dividing a family is never easy, but it doesn’t have to come at the cost of a child’s well-being. “It’s not the divorce that hurts children,” he says. “It’s the way parents get divorced, and the amount of conflict between them, that harms children.”
Recently inducted into the California Social Work Hall of Distinction, Kuroda has helped provide input to change family law so that judges can send divorcing parents to counseling. He has taught courses at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Social Workers in 2003.
With about half of U.S. marriages ending in divorce, Kuroda has seen growing interest from clients wanting to resolve their issues through mediation and “collaborative divorce” — ways of settling cases outside of court. He recently shared his expertise with writer Lynn Lipinski about how parents can part ways amicably without leaving a path of destruction in their family.
What’s the first thing you say to divorcing parents?
Don’t see divorce as a failure, but as a change in the family. Both parents together should tell the children of the decision, reassuring the kids that they will always be loved. Make sure the children know the divorce is not their fault. Explain that the parents have some differences they weren’t able to work out, so they’ve decided getting divorced is the best thing for them. This may be particularly difficult when one parent wants the divorce more than the other or if there has been an affair, but it’s important.
What can parents do to keep kids on a good academic path during the divorce?
As much as possible, keep study and homework routines the same. Keep the expectations the same and try not to let sympathy and sadness distract the children from their schoolwork. Both parents need to support the other in encouraging the children about their studies. Often a more permissive parent gives a different message than the other parent and the children may choose to listen to the more lax parent. Parents should come up with a parenting plan that is good for the children and their education. For example, requiring the children to switch homes every day would add to their confusion.
How can parents avoid pulling children into the pain and difficulties they’re experiencing?
Try not to say critical and negative things about the other parent to the children. Avoid using older children as confidants and burdening them with your concerns. Find a counselor who can help with the angry and sad feelings. Often a marriage counselor can provide divorce counseling. Instead of litigation and fighting in court, consider mediation and collaborative divorce. “Closing the book gently” can help everyone.