Divorce is difficult. It’s tough for you as the spouse, whether you’re struggling to get away from your spouse or desperately trying to keep the relationship intact.
It’s hard on mutual friends and extended family, who now have to figure out where they fit in with you and your ex-spouse, sometimes resulting in an obligatory ending of a relationship that may have been present for many years.
But of all of the people who divorce affects, kids receive the hardest punch. One day, their world is torn apart and what they knew as a “normal” life will be destroyed. No matter how wonderfully their parents handle the divorce process, divorce is different for kids and they don’t like it.
They want you to live together again.
They want to have one bedroom again.
They want to spend their weekends with both of you at the same time.
They’re sick and tired of the back and forth and they want it to stop!
Don’t get me wrong, for some kids, having divorced parents ends up being better than being raised in a conflicted household and parents shouldn’t just try to stay together for the kids unless they can do it appropriately.
But regardless of how positively parents handle the divorce, the transition to divorce is itself is still difficult for kids.
Even though you can’t completely protect kids from the pain of divorce—because it makes sense that kids would naturally grieve the loss of their parents’ relationship—you can make it easier on them.
Simply remember these simple tips…
You divorced your spouse; the children didn’t
When parents decide to divorce, unfortunately it is rarely amicably. In some cases, one partner decided to leave and the other wanted to work it out. In other cases, the couple had been bickering for so many years that both wanted out and wanted out now.
Whatever your case, you must remember that while you may hate the sound of your ex’s name, your child still desperately loves both of you.
Your child doesn’t hate the things that you couldn’t stand during the relationship. And actually, your child may have some of those same qualities as your ex. No matter how much you hate your ex, you must remember that your child loves that person and:
- Speak only positive things about your ex in front of your child (a good rule of thumb for married parents too!)
- Don’t share details about what your ex did to cause the divorce (even if you’re justified in doing so)
- Remember that time spent with the other parent is valuable and don’t attempt to cut off contact, decrease contact or use your child as a bargaining tool to get what you want
Your children feel the need to pick sides, but don’t make them!
After the divorce, the children start to notice that each of you has your own possessions and your own life separate from the other. The children—who were used to time with you together as a family—have now been exposed to a life of separateness in which you both live completely separate lives that don’t cross paths anymore.
Parents should make it clear to the children that they don’t have an expectation for the children to pick sides. It can be tempting to ask children “How’s mom” or “What did you do with your dad this weekend?”
No matter how innocent these questions may be, the children may now feel as if they have to show a loyalty to one over the other. Children may agonize over the question, questioning whether to tell the truth and worry about hurting that parent, or tell a lie in order to protect that parent.
Encourage children that there is no need to pick a side by saying things like, “I know that you love your dad and I’m glad that you love him. I want you to love him!” or “I hope your mom is doing well” or “I hope you and your dad had a fun time this weekend” instead of asking questions that might seem interrogatory.
There are plenty of recommendations that can help you to make the divorce experience to be as positive as possible for the kids, but don’t set yourself up to fail! Divorce is an emotional time for you as well. If all you can manage during your divorce is to know that your child loves your ex-spouse and let them know that they don’t have to pick sides, you’ll eliminate a majority of the issues that could develop during the divorce process.
Take care of yourself and the strong emotions that come from your experience by talking with a counselor, joining a divorce support group or reading a self-help book. I recommend Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends.
Once you’ve been able to take care of yourself enough that you’re ready to take on more responsibilities to help your kids through the divorce, I strongly recommend that you check out the book, What About the Kids: Raising your Children Before, During and After a Divorce.
Your kids desperately need your help. Are you willing to give them what they need? Or will you be so focused on your hatred for your ex-spouse that you’ll forget about their needs while you fulfill your own?