Divorce is hard on kids. Sometimes it is a brutal necessity that is unavoidable, but it is still hard. Kids naturally love their parents and want to be with them. Divorce does not allow them to have both parents at once. The more volatile the situation, the more distressed the children will be. Creating a safe, warm environment can minimize the stressors caused by divorce and children can thrive despite the challenges.
Tip 1: Realize You Will Still Need to Co-parent
The marriage may end with a divorce, but parenting will not. Communication about the children will continue despite a divorce. Things get even more complicated once step-parents are introduced, especially if they will be instrumental in decision making.
Being proactive by planning and making agreements on rules, expectations, and even who will be in charge of the daily needs can reduce arguments and frustrations. Simple things like communicating about a child’s struggles with math homework can reduce the stress on the child. When children know their parents are communicating and on the same page, they are less likely to feel stuck in the middle and worry about parents engaging in the blame game.
Tip 2: Respect the Other Parent
Terrible things can happen in marriage to leave a bitter taste in your mouth. Showing respect to your ex is not always easy. However, children identify with their parents. Bad-mouthing and acting as though the other parent is unimportant is hurtful to the kids. Even if there is no other reason to respect your ex, respect him/her just as the parent of your child. Choose to not bad-mouth this person. Speak kindly and gently even if you don’t feel like it.
Children are way more likely to do what you do than to do what you tell them to do. This is an opportunity to model how to show grace and patience with difficult people. Not only that but in their little minds, they are trying to make sense of what is happening. If they hear you screaming and yelling and talking hatefully, they may believe you are the problem, not the other parent. If your ex is the culprit, time will reveal the truth. Your kids do not need to hear it from your lips.
If you do have to share hard truths with your children, make sure to do it with compassion and kindness. For instance, if Dad is off on a drug binge and will not be around for visits, something will have to be said. If you say it in a disrespectful way, the kids are more likely to direct their anger toward you. When you offer empathy to your children who are hurting, they will be more likely to trust you and not hold you responsible for the behavior of their other parent.
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Tip 3: Do Your Best to Minimize Changes
After a divorce, many parents want a fresh start. They might desire to move to a new town, find new friends, or perhaps do things that were not possible before. However, the more changes your children face, the more difficult it will be for them to cope. There will be inevitable changes that you can’t control but try to keep as much as you can normal for your child. Keeping your child in the same school with their friends can allow for their support system to be there for them during the change. Are your kids involved in extracurricular activities? If so, do what you can to keep them going. Whether it is a church group, sports team, or club, kids will feel more grounded and supported if they are not completely uprooted.
Sometimes changes are unavoidable, such as fleeing an abusive situation. Starting over might be the only way to be safe. Or perhaps you have to move back to your hometown to stay with your family for a while. Ultimately, the goal is to leave as much of your child’s support system intact as possible.
Tip 4: Refuse to Fight
It is hard to agree on how best to parent your children when you are married. It is much more complicated after divorce. There will be times you and your ex do not see eye to eye. Conflict will arise and compromise will be the best outlet. If you need to have a discussion, try to schedule a time when you can sit down without the kids present.
There are many ways to shut down an argument and refuse to engage. Here are some example responses:
· Let me think about what you have said. I’ll send you an email later today with my response.
· I understand you have some concerns. Let’s schedule a time to talk about it.
· I’ll talk to you when you are calm.
· Thanks for letting me know how you feel about ___.
Ongoing litigation is not in the best interest of your child. You and your ex finding a way to work together on parenting is what will be best for the kids. If things are strained to the point where you can’t sit and talk it out, find someone to mediate the situation. Ideally, it would be great to find someone who does not show bias. Ongoing conflict is incredibly difficult for children to deal with emotionally. Even if you are not fighting in front of them, kids will sense the tension. Volatile situations put pressure on people to choose which side they will be on. Finding a way to keep things calm and peaceful will reduce this pressure on your children to feel that they need to choose a parent.
If the children are in danger, it is a different story. However, be careful to not project your own wounds from a broken relationship on the children's experience with their parent. Some people are lousy spouses but excellent parents. It is important to listen to your children and hear their hearts.
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Tip 5: Encourage Your Child to Love the Other Parent
There is something incredibly validating about giving permission for your children to love their parent and stepparent if there is one involved. Emotions bloom from whatever thoughts are playing out in the mind. If the focus is always on what is wrong and the negative sides of the divorce, kids will have feelings of sadness, frustration, anxiety, and possibly many other negative emotions. However, there are some perks. They have more people to love them, they get to celebrate birthdays and holidays more than once, and they get to experience different things in each home. Instead of just having one mom, they might have two.
It is beautiful to see parents come together and co-parent well for the sake of their children. Whether it is working together to coach a sports team or throwing a birthday party where everyone comes together to celebrate, kids will recognize when their parents put their emotions on the back burner. These kids usually beam with confidence because they know they are supported. It is not going to be easy, but your kids are worth it!
If you realize that you have made mistakes along the way and have vented in front of your kids, don't dwell on it. If you feel that you have made big mistakes, the best thing you can do is confess it to your kids, ask for forgiveness, then choose to do things differently in the future. You can't change the past, but you can own it, learn from it, and move forward in a better direction in the future.