Once you become a parent, being the best parent you can be is what takes priority in your life. This does not change if you and your child’s other parent get divorced. In fact, many mothers and fathers worry even more about how to best raise their child when they are not living in the same house with them 100 percent of the time. The good news is that parents can absolutely be good, effective parents after divorce. Here are some tips on helping your child cope with the divorce and also how to maintain that bond even when you only have your child half (or less) of the time.
Meet Your Child’s Emotional Needs
During the process of getting a divorce, your child will likely experience a wide variety of emotions. This will depend on their personality as well as their age, how the atmosphere in the home was prior to filing for divorce, and other factors. One of the best things you can do is to let your child know that you are there for them. Let them talk and share their emotions with you. They might express sadness, anger, disappointment, or even relief. You might find some of what they are saying to be hurtful; try to disregard those feelings so your child will feel comfortable sharing how they feel.
In some cases, counseling for your child might be warranted. If they are showing signs of depression or anxiety or if their grades are suffering, they aren’t spending time with friends, or they seem to be very angry at one or both parents, talk to their pediatrician or your family doctor about getting a referral for some counseling.
Meet Your Child’s Physical Needs
While you are going through your divorce and after the divorce is final, it is likely that you might have trouble with your finances. Divorce can be expensive, particularly if you have used a private attorney. You might be paying child support or spousal support (sometimes called alimony) or you might be on the receiving end of this support and find that it’s not enough to allow you to live comfortably. Either way, it is your responsibility to make sure your child’s physical needs are met.
You will need to be sure you live in a home that is safe for your child. You’ll need to make sure to pay the utility bills and to get him or her to school every day on time. Of course, you will need to feed your child nutritious foods, take him or her to the doctor when they’re sick, and purchase clothing and other essentials. If you are having trouble meeting these needs, talk to your legal advocate to learn about resources in the community that can help. For example, you might be able to sign your child up for free lunch at school and apply for Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which is health insurance for children.
Take Care of Your Own Needs
One mistake that some parents make after divorce is to use their child as a sounding board when they need to vent about the other parent. This is not fair to you or to your child. First, it is wrong to place your child in the position of having to hear negative statements about their other parent. In some cases, this is called parental alienation, and it is a behavior that could cause you to lose custody. Secondly, your child should not have to worry about you and how you are feeling; they are going through trauma of their own and need to focus on their own feelings.
It is important, however, for you to have someone to talk to who can listen and, if needed, give you advice. This could be a close friend, a family member, or a therapist. You might find it difficult to open up to someone else, particularly if you used to share everything with your spouse or if you shared friends. Finding someone to depend on can help you feel better, which will make you a better parent.
Work Together With Your Child’s Other Parent
Even if you don’t want to spend time with your ex-spouse and even if you don’t like him or her very much, you should still make every effort to have a civil co-parenting relationship. The two of you need to work as a team as much as you can to raise your child, and the sooner you can put aside the hurt, anger, and sadness that you might feel about your divorce, the sooner you will be able to work together as you parent your child.
Once custody and visitation has been settled, it is important to stick to the plan. Help your child feel comfortable in not only your home but also in your ex’s home. For example, allow your child to take belongings back and forth whenever possible and try not to get upset if things are left at the other parent’s house. Communicate with your ex about school events, doctors’ appointments, and other events that he or she should know about.
Improve Yourself as a Person and as a Parent
Finally, work on improving yourself not only as a parent but as a whole person. Remember that you need to be fulfilled in order to be the best parent you can be. So try out a new hobby, travel, make friends, take a class, date if you want to, and look for a career that you love if you don’t already have one. Don’t feel guilty for spending time on yourself or for pursuing happiness after your divorce.
It can be difficult to feel as though you are a good parent after a divorce. Your child might be traumatized and upset, and you might feel guilty about the divorce itself or about the factors that led up to the divorce in the first place. Just keep in mind that you are doing the best you can and that you can’t do better than that. As long as you are striving to meet your child’s emotional and physical needs, you are doing a good job and you are a good parent.