Let’s talk about the hardest part of divorce – co-parenting. Sure, divorce can rain chaos in many other areas of your life, dividing bank accounts, muddling friendships, sucking focus and attention, and pummeling your confidence.
After the divorce, you can make more money, find better friends, get more rest, hit the gym or yoga mat, and even pick up hobbies long forgotten or dreamed of. You will gain your confidence back, in time.
One thing you cannot get back is your children’s experience of their parents’ divorce. They will remember how you and your ex parted, in vivid detail, with their own twinges of hurt, confusion, and guilt. If you want your children to be “survivors” of your divorce, rather than “collateral”, this is the time to take action.
What is important for parents to know about helping children cope with their divorce?
Be thoughtful about the staging of your divorce.
That’s right, don’t just let it all happen, spontaneously. As parents, you are the leaders in your family. You would never go into an important event in life, even a business meeting, without a plan. For your childrens’ sake, do not go into this life-altering transition without one.
- Think about how and when you will tell your kids about the divorce. Keep the narrative age appropriate, and non-blaming. They will not learn anything or benefit in any way from one of their parents being branded as “bad”. Refrain from using language that makes either of you look like a victim or perpetrator. What happened in your marriage can be described in child language, without the adult details. No matter what.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If your child asks you a question about what will happen, and you do not have a firm answer, do not build their hopes with what you hope will be the answer. Depending on their ages, it’s ok to tell children that you are not sure about something, that you and their other parent will be deciding that in the weeks/months to come.
- As simple as this sounds, please refrain from making negative comments, no matter how “veiled”, about your child’s other parent. They know you, they sense when you are disgusted, or angry, with someone. If you are angry at your ex, better to use grown up words. Say “I’m angry at mom/dad right now”.
- Remember, their other parent will continue to be family for your children. There is no getting away from that. Encourage that relationship, as you would want them to do the same for you. There will come a time when you may need to rely on your ex for help with your children. Keep it civil.
Your children will thank you both someday if you and your ex can protect them from the pain of seeing their parents hurt each other. If you can manage to have difficult conversations outside of their presence, think about how they feel, and continue offering them love and support, your children will have a better shot at healing after the divorce.