Most couples that go through a divorce understand that keeping the kids out of all the emotions is the ideal scenario, but that hardly ever works. Children often become the victims in a break-up. We’ve all seen it, whether we’re directly or indirectly involved.
But the fact remains that divorced couples with children – in most cases – must continue to function as parents, even though co-parenting can be difficult after a divorce, especially if the split wasn’t amicable. Add to the mix things like new relationships for either parent and you’ve got complications that can certainly make things even more tumultuous.
Nonetheless, couples who are co-parenting after a break-up need to do their best to suck it up and do what’s right for the children. Decisions must be child-centered and parents need to learn to put aside the mess that comes with any divorce and make sure that the kids are front and center.
It’s not always easy to do this, but here are a few tips to help you (and the kids) cope with this new normal.
- Love your kids more than you hate your spouse. This is paramount…and it will likely take a lot of work if the divorce was a difficult one. It can be tough to be nice to one another after a split but remember that what your kids see as far as your relationship with your ex will have a lifelong impact on them. Reach out for help if you’re having a hard time with this as your kids will benefit in the long-run when you learn that spewing hate simply isn’t productive.
- Work towards rebuilding communication with your ex-spouse. This is a biggie! You must decide not only that you CAN communicate civilly, but you must also decide HOW you will communicate. Passing messages back and forth via the children, for example, is not a wise idea. Set up regular phone calls, in-person meetings, or whatever works best for your schedule to talk about the children’s needs, and then stick to it.
- But you’ll also need to be flexible. Two parents living apart is not the same as two parents living together. If you or your ex need to make a change, don’t say “no” just to be difficult. If it’s something that’s easy to do, go ahead and agree to it. You may be in the same position next month or next week.
- Be accessible to the other parent. Don’t “ghost” each other, as the saying goes these days. Turning off your phone so you don’t have to speak to you co-parent doesn’t benefit anyone. Be available without being overly-available. You don’t have to jump every time he or she calls but you should do what’s polite, like answering texts or emails promptly and accepting calls even if you don’t feel like talking. Showing you can be civil makes you a good role model for your children in the midst of what can be a very upsetting time for them.
- Refrain from discussing the divorce in front of your children as well as other topics impacted by the divorce, such as finances. These are adult matters with which children should not be burdened. Don’t think they’re not listening. When they know their parents are at odds, their listening becomes even more keen.
- Avoid the nastiness! If you’re to co-parent together, don’t say negative things to your kids about your ex or his/her family. This negative speech teaches disrespect and, before you know it, your kids will be using the same language, eager to get on your good side by slamming the other parent. This bad-mouthing is one of the worst things you can do in a divorce situation because it does nothing but divide and leads to plenty of discord. (See our blog on parental alienation.)
- Don’t ignore your ex’s special occasions. For example, if you’re sending 6-year-old Ben to Dad’s for his birthday dinner, Ben should arrive with a card and/or present. Even if the last person you want to spend money on is your ex-spouse, remember that it’s important to your child.
- Finally, find support if you are having problems dealing with co-parenting and other issues that involve your ex. Find co-parenting support groups, reach out to good friends, or find a counselor who can help you through the process.
Remember, a divorce will not destroy your children. Your reaction to your divorce, however, can certainly cause lasting harm. On-going conflict with the other parent will benefit no one and can leave kids with scars that will last a lifetime. Though your pain may be present for a long time to come, do your best to co-parent with grace and respect. Your children will appreciate it, even if they’re too young to verbalize that appreciation.