Though we wish we would see less of it in divorce circumstances, children end up the ultimate casualties when parents take their failed relationship to the ultimate battlefield – family court. While two parents who choose to actually act the part of the adults in the post-relationship years is the best situation, it only takes one to step-up and improve things for the kids.
It’s no secret that divorce is often a painful, complex, and seemingly never-ending process. Divorcing parents need to realize that sooner (rather than later) – they truly need to make the decision to rid themselves of the anger and bitterness of the failed relationship. Too often one (or both) choose not to make that change and the kids suffer from the fallout.
There is no such thing as a “happy divorce” and the better termed “amicable divorce” is exceedingly rare. We cannot predict how the children will react when it comes to divorce, but our experience (and plenty of research) shows that it’s usually not very well. Individual children will respond differently and are impacted by a variety of factors, including:
- How the parents manage their own behavior after the start of proceedings.
- The child’s adjustment to life pre-divorce.
- The post-divorce moods, attitudes, and emotions throughout the proceedings. A parent who is better able to manage their emotions is better able to help children manage theirs. A depressed parent or one with mismanaged feelings of anger and resentment can have a profoundly negative affect on children’s adjustments.
- The level of conflict between parents (high-conflict or low-conflict) and whether the child is witness to inappropriate behaviors or actions.
- The amount of parenting-child time that the kids have with each parent throughout the proceedings.
Make no mistake about this – regardless of the situations that precipitated a divorce, in most cases – children want nothing more than for their parents and their family to remain together.
There are things that the parents can do to manage the adjustments your child will need to make and manage once the family has broken-up. Even if you don’t have a partner with this understanding, do not let it stop you from taking these very important steps to help your children navigate through this very emotional, tumultuous time in their lives.
10 Top Post-Divorce Best Practices – Be Smart of the Children!
- Don’t minimize or dismiss your child’s feelings. Listen actively and learn from what they’re telling you and even what they’re showing you. Validate that what they’re feeling is normal and that you and your ex-partner are responsible for helping them through this tough time.
- Don’t lie to your children. This includes “lies by omission.” Don’t give your children the false impression that you and their other parent are going to get back together. This means, if they ask directly, you can’t be afraid to be honest in an age-appropriate way. “Well, honey, we’ll see” will give them false hope. “I don’t know” will give them false hope. The truth is, you won’t be, and you need to be sure that the children understand this. Yes, we understand it’s difficult, but remember – the children will wish for the family to be back together for a long time to come. The easy way out can be very detrimental.
- Re-assure them that it is not their fault! They may never say it, but believe us when we tell you, they will think it at some point, sometimes at several points and for years after it’s all over.
- Remind them that you and your ex-partner love them and do so frequently. Setting aside your negative feelings for your ex is important so that you can convey to the children that both of their parents love them dearly. Say it with confidence, too!
- Do not engage in custodial interference. Not only can you get in trouble for doing so, the bottom line is that children need both parents (with certain exceptions involving serious issues). Don’t let your negative feelings about your ex cloud your judgment.
- Encourage ongoing communications and relationship with your ex-partner/ex-wife/ex-husband. Allow them to make phone calls. Arrange for calls back when you’re not able to be there and messages are left.
- No bad-mouthing the other parent! Do not blame or insult the other parent to the children, around the children, and do not argue with your ex-partner in front of the children. Your behavior is the model from which they’ll learn adult interactions when they grow-up. Be smart about this. The kids watch your every move, don’t forget it.
- Know what’s appropriate to discuss with the children and be mindful of their ages when you choose to deliver the message. Keep the divorce “dirt” private. Kids should not be privy to the nastiness that existed between you and your ex-partner and you should certainly not be trying to brainwash them or alienate them against the other parent. What’s between you and your ex-partner should remain so. Dragging the children into it is a horrendous idea.
- Avoid becoming the “fun parent” or the “fun household” or the parent who attempts to buy the children’s affections. There are no toys, gifts, pets, video games, etc. that will be more beneficial to your children’s upbringing than your time, your thoughts, your consideration, your attention, your affection, your pride, your teaching, and your time.
- Take care of yourself. Stay healthy. Keep a sound body and a sound mind to ensure you’re at your best when it comes to caring for the kids.
Research abounds showing that children of divorce suffer severe negative consequences, particularly when one parent is left with little or no parenting time. They are ultimately prone to being more sexually active, more depressed, more confrontational with peers, more aggressive with parent and teachers, more likely to have a criminal record, less likely to go to college, and much more likely to be divorced in the future. That’s not all, either.
Giving your children the best possible opportunity to grow up healthy, well-adjusted adults means coming to grips with your own personal divorce situation. The better you’re able to manage your own feelings and shield your children from the nastiness that is so often a part of high-conflict divorce – the better off your children will be. It takes practice, patience, and discipline, but it can be done if you put your mind to it. If both parents embrace these approaches – all the better, but don’t lose sight of the fact that even if only you do it, you improve things for the kids.