Divorce changes all lives it touches. Even the most stable, self confident adult can find their world’s been shaken to its core. Children, no matter what their ages, are even more impacted by divorce. Children with less developed emotions, reasoning skills, and coping skills are often left feeling alone, scared, often blaming themselves for the family’s breakup. This can have detrimental impacts on them for years to come.
It’s essential from the moment you know you’re getting divorced to keep your children’s best interests first. You may feel sad, overwhelmed, and confused – focusing on your children’s welfare can distract you from revenge and other unhealthy emotions and actions. ‘
While a divorce will surely impact your children and they will have pain, handling life during and after divorce can lead to happy, healthy, and well adjusted children who’ve learned that they can handle the curve balls life sometimes throws.
Follow these tips for positive parenting after divorce.
1. Maintain Consistency. So much has changed in the lives of children of divorce it’s important to maintain those things you can.
- Keep the house. If you’re able, continue to live in the same house, at least for a while. If you must move try to select a house or apartment where they can attend the same school or stay close to a familiar area. Encourage your children to keep in touch with friends if you do move out of the area. Try to let your kids finish the school year if at all possible. This may mean financial strain, creative budgeting, and sacrificing on your part, but it will be worth it.
- Maintain Routines. Don’t change too much too soon. Try to let your children stay in any sports or clubs they’ve been active in before. Keep household rules, chores, and expectations the same as before the divorce. Discipline should be the same too. Discipline may now be a one-man show but stick to the rules and follow through on consequences – the same way it went in your house before the divorce. You can bet your children will challenge you on all of this – maybe more than ever before. Stay strong, stick to the routine, and all of you will be better for it. They need you to follow through and be strong in routines now more than ever.
- Hold up expectations. Before the divorce you had certain expectations for each of your children; from school work to household chores. Stick to them. Don’t change this out of frustration or sheer exhaustion. Sure you may be tired, sad, and feeling overwhelmed but it won’t last forever and neither will the challenges your kids may be giving you at this time. A little strength now goes a long way down the road.
2. Provide Extra Emotional Support. Your kids are going through changes just like you. They’ll need extra support from you now.
- Quality time. You are probably either relieved it’s all over and elated; or running on overload spinning from the last few months (or years) – or maybe a bit of both. Either way, both you and your children may need extra support during the next few months. Try to spend time with them. It’s not how much time you spend (you may have less time than ever now) it’s the quality of time. All children have their own special way to connect; a hug, a nighttime talk, a walk, a cuddle. Whatever speaks love to your children make the time, even if it’s just 5 minutes, to give this extra love to them everyday. It may seem simple or too little but it will help them know they’re loved in this changing time.
- Enlist a therapist. All children are different, divorces are different, and family dynamics vary too. Sometimes it’s helpful for all involved to seek professional counseling. A counselor experienced with children and divorce can help them to cope (and you too.) The right counselor will know how to help your children and will also teach you strategies to use at home that can be extremely helpful during this transition.
- Be open with school counselors. Asking a child to keep secret anything in the family can be very hard for them. Although you may feel pain and want to be private about your family situation opening up to a school counselor can be one of the best moves you make. The information you share must stay confidential so you don’t have to worry about other families knowing. Letting the school counselor know what’s going on at home can really help your child. Often a child develops problems at school during divorce; letting the school counselors and even teachers know what’s going on can stop problems from developing and add to their support system.
3. Maintain Communication. Keeping the lines of communication open in all relationships is crucial to recovering from a painful divorce.
- Keep in touch with your ex’s family. You’ve gone from being related to your ex’s parents, siblings, and other relatives to well, being divorced from them too? This may feel uncomfortable at first but keeping the lines of communication open with your in-laws after a divorce (provided they are not unsafe) is vital to children’s adjustment. They are still related to the other side of the family. Maintaining any relationships that were established is important for their healthy emotional development. Your ex will probably keep these relationships going but it’s helpful for you to also let the kids know you support their ongoing interaction with them. You don’t want your kids to feel the added burden of betraying you if they maintain these relationships; let them know its okay and actively encourage them to keep in touch.
- Improve communication with your ex. Maybe the divorce was difficult, or it could have gone smoothly, either way if you have kids with your ex the communication between you two will be lifelong. Take the time and learn the skills to make it work. If you didn’t communicate well during the marriage now is the time to start. Speak to your ex openly, honestly, and with respect (even if you have to fake it) for the sake of your children. Never ask kids to carry messages, checks, or ask about what the other parent is doing. If you want to know something ask your ex directly; otherwise forget it.
4. Encourage Individual Relationships. Allow your children to develop their own relationship with your ex.
- Forming new bonds. Don’t ask your children to protect you or take sides. Let your children develop their own relationship with their parent, your ex, without your interference. You may not like your ex but leave it up to them to establish their own feelings about their parent. It’s really none of your business (unless there’s any abuse or neglect – in that case take strong, decisive action immediately!) You may have feelings of anger, resentment, and pain towards your ex but it’s vital you don’t let your kids in on it. They probably already know, don’t talk about it to them, this is what your friends, support group, or therapist can do to help – listen!
- Hold your tongue. No matter what your ex did (with the exception of abuse to your children), despite how you really think and feel about him, hold your tongue while around your children. They don’t need to hear what you think about him or how you feel. This is what good friends are for in divorce. Rant and rave about his stupidity or selfishness to them, but never, ever in front of your kids. You’ll be doing more damage than you can imagine.
Divorce is hard on all, especially our innocent children. Doing everything you can to insure they make the best possible adjustment is your responsibility. Take it seriously.
During divorce change is inevitable. Doing as much as you are able from a place of love and acceptance is vital to helping your kids cope. No matter what changes may be occurring, let them know your love is constant.
Keep in mind these tips when parenting after divorce and you’ll likely have happy, well adjusted kids to share your life of joy.
Guest Author: Barb Cronin is a full time freelance writer from the Philadelphia area specializing in women’s issues; all natural health and wellness; fitness; and dating/relationships. She’s the mother of three; has survived two separations and one divorce. Barb has an extensive educational and work background in elementary education, journalism, and law. Barb believes in empowering women everywhere to follow their true destinies and be the healthiest woman they can be.