Ajusting Kids to Divorce: Advice for Parents

6 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.
Adjusting My Kids to Divorce
 

My ex and I did not do many things really well in our years of marriage. Obviously--otherwise we'd have stayed married! But in our separation and divorce I am proud to say we've learned from many of our mistakes as a married couple and done quite a few things RIGHT by our kids.

Early on we put down some very specific guidelines of how we wanted the kids to feel during this process, and we have worked together for the most part to make sure we stuck with these guidelines. I am really proud of the way we've handled our separation, divorce, and all the confusing things that come with a major life alteration like moving across the country with our two small kids. It gives me great satisfaction to know that although we were unable to stay married to one another, at least we've gotten this part right. Both kids are happy, well adjusted, and feel safe and loved, equally, by both parents.

I'm going to share the basics of what we've done. It becomes especially apparent in being close to other divorces in which one or both of the parents refuse to work together with the other parent for the best interest of the children, how well my ex and I have managed to do this. And, how important it is for the health and well-being of the children to do it. Of all the things I've done in my life, getting my kids healthily and safely through a divorce is one of the ones I am most pleased with.

{I want to note that neither of us were mentally or physically abusive, and that each situation for divorce is different. I'm not casting this out as one-size-fits-all kind of guideline. This is just was what worked best for us.}

The first thing to mention is, that, from the very beginning, we did everything together. We talked to the kids together. We told them things together. We never pitted them against one another. Here is something to read if you are just beginning to consider a divorce. Remember, never ever tell the kids before you and your partner are ready to do it together.

Divorce is messy. Keep the kids out of it.

1) Never Speak Ill or Negatively About the Other Parent: It is not the fault of the children that their parents can't get along. They should not be made to feel anything but love for the other parent. When they are grown, they can hear the full story and make their judgments. But until then, negativity towards either parent only makes a child feel hurt and confused. An eye roll, or an under-the-breath remark, or an exasperated sigh over the annoyance of the other parent can be picked up on and felt by the kids We have always had the steadfast rule of never talking about the other parent in front of the kids. I know it broke my ex's heart when he was faced with the reality of having to let his children move away from him across the country. Yet in his amazing credit, he was able to do so without ever saying a single negative word about me in front of our children. I am constantly frustrated by him for so many ongoing reasons, but I will never let the kids know that. Even though we do not agree with the lifestyles or choices of the other, we know that it is our children's RIGHT and their PRIVILAGE to be allowed to love--and to feel perfectly okay doing so--their other parent.

2) Allow the Children the Freedom to Talk: Both our kids feel perfectly comfortable talking about their "other" lives and their "other" families in front of both of us, they never feel they need to hide anything. This is extremely important. Children should never be made to feel they have to hide a part of their lives from a parent. Again, they did not choose to be in this situation, and adult matters should not be addressed to them. Of course, sometimes they say things that surprise us about the "other" household, but we never make them feel that surprise, or make them feel bad or guilty over it. My ex always tells my kids how lucky they are to have Him in their lives and to always listen to Him because he's a good man. It takes courage to tell your children to love and respect another person in their lives like that. And when children need to talk about the other parent or feel sad or confused, they need the freedom to share those feelings. Living away from the home of either of their parents for any length of time can be confusing and sad. They should be free to share when they have those feelings, and not be made to feel that sharing might be used against the other parent.

3) Never Talk About Divorce Issues in Front of the Kids: I think we both try extremely hard to never, ever talk about divorce issues in front of the kids. It is not fair to constantly remind them that they are in this situation. Money, materials, divorce, blame, fault--those are all adult matters that should never under any circumstance be addressed in front of them. This does not mean not talking about divorce at all with children. They need to understand to a certain extent of why they don't live full time with both parents. They do need to know what divorce is, what it means. They don't need to know all the dirty details of he-said she-said. We started out by reading books about children with different kinds of families, with two homes, with two moms, or that live with their grandparents. We talk a lot about how lucky they are to have so many people that love them. That mommy and daddy might not be living together anymore, but look at ALL THE PEOPLE they get to have love them. I've even said that they are luckier than most kids, because they have a Daddy and a Him, a Nanny and Papa, another Papa and Grandma, aunt, uncle, friends, the BOYS!!! and many, many more people--all that love them.You should see their faces light up when we talk about this. At least once a week they like to be reminded how much they are loved, and at least once a week we read this book. Their favorite. I think it reminds them how normal they are and how much they are loved.

4) Keep Kids Connected: With family, friends, and most importantly their other parent. They need to feel at any moment they are connected and can contact their other parent. We do that via phone and--the wonder of modern technology--Skype. They also need to be constantly reminded of them with pictures of the other parent hanging in their rooms, and of being able--and welcome--to tell stories of the other parent. They thrive on these things. Although my two see their daddy only every few months, he is a regular part of conversation at our dinner table, in story telling, in talking and writing about our families, and so much more.

5) Make Transition Easy: Lastly, it is very important that the transition between houses be as easy as possible for kids. This is where communication and maturity come into play for both parents. Children should not be used as messengers, they should not be used as pawns, they should not be used as gatekeepers of belongings. They should not be made to feel bad for going to or from a parents' house. The transition from one parents' house to the other is hard enough for a healthy, happy, adjusted child. Added stress or pressure from a parent becomes too much for a child. Parents need to be civil and smiling when they drop off and pick up. If they ever have concerns about the home or belongings the children are coming or going with, they should talk to the other parent, not use the children as a go-between. My ex and I let them bring whatever they want between the houses (within size constraints and packing reason) and are not punished or rewarded otherwise. We've found that for us email and texts are the best way to communicate about travel, pick ups, and belongings. That way emotion stays in check (most of the time) but more importantly because the kids don't have to hear us discussing or even arguing over anything related to them. They should not ever be made to feel they are a subject of dispute between the two people they love the most, and so often I've heard of how pick ups and drop offs become the venues of fights between parents.

I did a lot of reading in preparation for what we'd have to do to make divorce and separation as easy for the kids as possible. Some of what I've found helpful is:

Ten Commandments of Co-Parenting

 

Co-parenting Guide

We Can Parent Together

Children and Divorce--American Pediatric Association

Divorce and Children

He and I apply this to all of the children in our blended family home--AT.ALL.TIMES. Despite what is going on between the adults in their lives, we strongly believe that the children deserve to simply be children, to not have to be worried about adult subjects, to be allowed to talk about their other parents however and whenever they need, and are allowed to equally and openly love ALL their parents!

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