Divorce affects the whole family and is especially difficult for children. Children don’t understand why mom and dad can’t just apologize and get along. Kids are taught that everyone can be friends and if we treat each other with respect, everything will work out. Until they are much older they don’t have a grasp on the stress of overwhelming debt, the betrayal of infidelity or the impossibility of living with someone you no longer respect. As you work through the emotional and financial aspects of divorce, use these basic tips to lessen the impact on your children.
- Know that your kids are going to be impacted, even if it’s not a hostile separation. Don’t pretend everything is fine. It’s not. Your lives are changing and those changes bring fear, resentment and uncertainly. This is a great time to show your children how to be resilient. Talk to them and show them that while you can – and should – honour your feelings, you need to do it in productive ways. Make time to talk. Journal. Seek therapy. Have a stress ball or punching bag for more active releases of frustration. Show your children that it’s okay to experience strong emotions, but there is no need to disrespect yourself or anyone else while experiencing them.
- Don’t trash the ex-spouse. This is a hard one, especially if the ex-spouse damaged you financially, emotionally or physically. It’s okay to be honest with the kids (your father/mother chose another partner, your mother has a financial abuse problem, he/or she was expressing anger in ways that are not okay) but avoid name calling and disrespect (That lousy so-and-so spent us into the poorhouse! He chose that tramp over his own family! He’s just a wife beater!) Even if those statements are true, trashing your spouse often backfires. The child sees you as the problem because of the disrespect. You can let your kids know what happened, but stick to the facts and focus on moving into a healthier emotional place, together.
- Decide on how the family unit will function. Abuse is not okay. If your ex-spouse hurt you or the kids, take immediate steps to legally restrict his or her access. Otherwise, have a frank and honest discussion about how the family will move forward. Don’t deny access to the children if you don’t have a good, legal reason to do so. If one parent wants to completely walk away from all the responsibility, have him or her sign away their parental rights and/or ensure you get the custody and alimony you are entitled to. If both parents wish to remain involved with the children, work out a custody arrangement and get it all in writing. Have it notarized or made a part of the divorce paperwork. Hire a mediator, therapist or lawyer if you cannot work out the details by yourselves.
- Use technology. It’s your day with the kids and it’s the night of the school Christmas play. If you can’t get along with your ex well-enough for both of you to attend, take photos or a short video and send it using your smartphone. Use a scheduling app that links both parent’s calendars so no doctor’s appointment, change in custody days or sleepover party gets missed. Let your kids facetime, text or email the other spouse if they miss them on the days they are apart. Remember, your kids are not a tool to punish your ex-spouse. Allowing them to remain connected to the other parent helps everyone heal and move on faster.
Divorces are hard, especially for children. Keep their best interests in mind as you go through the proceedings. Many kids go on to have very healthy, happy, adjusted lives – but only if their parents co-parent effectively.