Statistics show that of all the children born this year, 50 percent will be impacted by their parents' divorce by their 18th birthdays.
LifeBridge Director Mitzi L. Dorris, while not advocating divorce as the first option, admitted that it is, at times, unfortunately needed. Between her roles coordinating LifeBridge Parenting Classes and working professionally as a paralegal, Dorris hears the same line frequently: We will stay together for the kids. However, "if they are constantly yelling and fighting, that's not a good example for the children either," she explained. "The children will look at their parents' marriage and think, 'If this is what marriage looks like, then I don't want to ever get married.' What's worse, they learn more about arguing and sometimes abuse more than they learn about compromise and understanding."
The "hurricane" of divorce, as Dorris described it, can consume parents. Too often, children are inadvertently overlooked, and their feelings and emotional cries for help often go unnoticed.
In an effort to help children of divorce, the Tennessee legislature passed Tennessee Code Annotated 36-6-408 in 2001, which orders divorcing parents to attend a four-hour parenting class.
While there are several providers in the Middle Tennessee area, few are actually court-certified providers. LifeBridge's curriculum has been reviewed, approved and certified by the Tennessee Administrative Offices of the Court for having met the high standards set by the statute and the courts. LifeBridge has offered classes since 2002 and has submitted certificates of completion to courts all over Tennessee as well as many surrounding states for thousands of divorcing parents as well as single parents involved in juvenile court cases. Their success is largely due to their dedication to helping parents understand how to successfully co-parent with their children and their focus on healing the hearts of our youth.
"Far too often, either a father or a mother comes to our class and says, 'Are you really going to make me stay the full four hours? My spouse took another class and just showed up and were handed a certificate,'" Dorris said. "As a provider - we only have one opportunity to make a positive impact on a child when a divorcing parent registers for a LifeBridge class. When other providers don't understand the importance of their role in this process, it breaks my heart. Every one of our teachers has personally experienced divorce in their family. They all understand how important this class is to both the parents and the children."
LifeBridge offers a four-hour parenting class called "Two Homes, One Heart: Transforming Families Through Co-Parenting." The class covers multiple areas of transition that often parents don't recognize while in the heat of a divorce. They offer techniques for successful co-parenting, recognizing the effects of divorce on both the children and the parents, and making the transition to two homes as smooth as possible while keeping both the mother and the father active in the child(ren)'s lives. Slides show how a child's age affects their reaction to the divorce. They also provide helpful tips for life beyond divorce - such as dating again, incorporating new spouses and siblings into the child's life and suggest reading material for parents. Dorris says, "The class moves through so much material, that most times the parent cannot believe that four hours has passed! We get rave reviews and oftentimes parents ask if other classes are offered."
"Our class is $50 per person, and every cent will come back to you through the changes you will see in your child's responses," Dorris said, adding that it can also help in dealing with your spouse during divorce proceedings. "If you will incorporate what is learned in our class into your life, you'll end up getting to your final decree a whole lot faster, with less fighting. It's a win-win situation for both parents and the children. When you co-parent well, the likelihood of returning to court is greatly diminished, and that's going to save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in court and attorney fees."
Dorris, now remarried, was a divorced mother of four when she discovered LifeBridge in 2008. It was originally founded by Kelly Cline. "I was completely blown away by the class at LifeBridge. I knew that it was something I believed in," Dorris said. She went through the LifeBridge seminar, followed by counseling with Cline. When Cline moved to Kentucky, she sold the company to Dorris.
In 2012, Dorris, along with one of her key instructors, Sherry Davidson, rewrote the curriculum over a six-month period. She used her experience as a paralegal and sought out professionals in other fields to aid in the task. Prior to becoming a LifeBridge instructor, Ms. Davidson spent several years as a school teacher and had long seen the effects on children of divorce and their ability to function at school.
"We did extensive work when we were writing this curriculum. Statistics showed that adult males in jail were overwhelmingly from single-parent households and didn't have a father figure in their life," she said, noting that poverty, abuse and other factors also played a role. "If we can get to parents and help them understand how important it is for both the mother and father to actively participate and stay involved in their child's life, the positive change in our legal system could be very dramatic."
Oftentimes, the classes become sort of a support group for the parents. Dorris said it isn't uncommon for parents to exchange numbers and become friends.
"There are not many people who get a chance to directly affect the lives of people the way that LifeBridge does. It's very rewarding."
For more information or to enroll in a LifeBridge Class, go to www.lifebridgetn.com.