Divorce can be incredibly painful for one or both of the adults involved, and it’s easy to feel consumed by your own feelings of sadness and anger and by the actual process of filing for and going through the legal procedure of a divorce. But if you have children in the mix, it’s important to remember that they have feelings and needs that need to be attended to during this time as well. It’s common for parents to try to act like nothing has changed in front of their children and continue their life as normal, but even young children can pick up on parents’ moods and changes in the household routine, and it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and make sure that their needs are being met during a divorce as well. Take a look at some of the things that you need to do.
Encourage Your Child to Talk About Their Feelings
Children can react to divorce in a number of ways. Your child may feel sad or scared, they may be angry with one or both of you, or they may feel responsible in some way and have feelings of guilt about the situation. You won’t know exactly how your child is feeling unless they tell you, and they may not tell you on their own without some encouragement.
Make it a point to encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Talking about their feelings helps children feel empowered. It can also allow you to correct misperceptions that you may not be aware of – for example, if your child is afraid that the divorce was caused by something that they did, you can reassure them that this is not the case. This is a good time to make sure that your child also knows that there are other safe adults in their lives they can talk to, like grandparents or school counselors. Most parents prefer that their child come to them with their feelings, but it’s important that your child is talking to someone about their concerns about the divorce even if they aren’t comfortable coming directly to you.
Avoid Criticizing Your Ex In Front of Your Child
It’s understandable that you might have negative feelings about your child’s other parent, but it’s very important that you avoid voicing those feelings to your child. Even very small children understand that they are made up of both mom and dad, and they may internalize angry or negative statements that you make about their other parent. Express yourself to your friends, your family, or your therapist, but do it out of earshot of your child.
This applies even in cases where your ex disappoints your child. It’s hard to watch your child suffer when their other parent doesn’t show up for visitation or cuts a visit short because they have other plans. It’s natural to feel angry on behalf of your child when this happens. But don’t express your anger to your child – even if your child is also angry at your ex. In this situation, your child needs to be reassured. Let them know that adults sometimes make mistakes and that this can hurt people they love, but that both of you still love your child very much.
Keep Your Children Out of Your Arguments
To whatever extent possible, it’s best to avoid arguing in front of your children. When parents fight, children often feel frightened and powerless. In theory, divorcing should reduce the amount of fighting and arguing that a couple can do, but when children are involved, parents have to communicate with each other even in the midst of a messy divorce. You can’t co-parent without communicating, but you may have to rethink your methods of communicating if it often leads to fighting.
While some parents manage to divorce but maintain an amicable relationship for the purposes of parenting, others find themselves in frequent conflict. Some parents find that limiting communication to text message or email is helpful during the times when tensions are highest. These methods of communication allow you to consider (and edit) before sending a message, which can help you stay on topic and prevent conversations from drifting into turbulent territory. Since texts and emails can also be used as evidence in court, this also gives both parties incentive to stay on their best behavior. And because these types of communications are nonverbal, you can keep your children from overhearing it even if the exchanges do get heated.
Encourage Visitation, Don’t Limit It
Unless you’re genuinely concerned about your children’s safety when they’re spending time with your ex, do your best to encourage your children to spend time with their other parent. Work on coming up with a parenting plan that prioritizes your child’s relationship with both parents, and to the extent that you’re able, try to be flexible and understanding when schedules need to be changed or adjusted.
Remember, visitation isn’t something that you’re allowing for the sake of your ex. It’s something that you’re encouraging for the sake of your child. Most experts believe that children benefit from maintaining a consistent relationship with two loving and involved parents. Encouraging your child to visit with your ex if they’re reluctant, and making an effort to accommodate your ex’s schedule is something that you should do because it’s best for your child.
It can be hard to see past your own feelings when you’re going through a divorce, but as a parent, it’s your job to prioritize your child, even when you’re hurting or angry. Make it a point to consider your child’s needs and address them first as you work your way through your divorce. Contact National Family Solutions if you are going through a divorce and custody situation and need help navigating the ropes.