There are a lot of harsh realities that hit once you’re separated or divorced, and a lot of those have to do with your kids and the “new normal” that will become a part of all of your lives.
Let’s face it. Divorce is painful no matter how amicable you plan for it to be. Regardless of who initiated the divorce or even if it was a mutual decision, you’ll never feel the same way about your former spouse as you did when you first married. Relationships will change. Life as you know it will change. Your children’s lives will change.
But it’s essential to remember that – unless one partner has totally removed themselves from your children’s lives – you’ll still be co-parenting together, and for this reason you must find a way to make it work. The health and welfare of your kids depends upon your ability to parent together when living separately, no matter the age of your children.
Accept your new role
You and your ex are no longer spouses or partners. Your role as a husband or wife is over for now until you decide to remarry in the future if you wish. The only thing you are to each other now is a co-parent. That means it doesn’t matter whether you like your ex’s relationship decisions or other things that don’t really involve you now. All that matters is that – as co-parents – you are both offering the best you can for your children.
Communication is key
From the start, you must stay in contact with your ex in instances where the children are concerned. Effective communication allows you to efficiently manage things like the children’s activities, your time with them, and anything else outlined in your custody agreement, which is – by the way – a must-have for divorced parents.
If your divorce was contentious, you may have decided that you never want to have a relationship with your ex again. That’s okay. You needn’t be anything beyond cordial – as you would with a casual acquaintance – and you needn’t have conversations about anything other than those things that involve your children. Remember, as the adults in the relationship, you are doing this for your children, not for each other. Your children should not be punished for what happened between the two of you and it’s essential to keep that in mind.
A calm and cordial relationship with your ex will mean all the world to your kids. They’re watching everything the two of you are doing and how you’re interacting with one another. Even the youngest children can pick up on stress and anger and will react accordingly.
It isn’t unusual for children of divorce to develop life-long mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. The way you and your ex treat each other will have a large impact on whether or not your children emerge from the experience relatively unscathed. Being consistently angry and upset with the other partner can trigger anxiety in your children or also prompt them to take the side of one parent, which is never a good thing.
Don’t communicate through your children
Another sure-fire way to stress out your kids is to make them your messenger. A decision to co-parent means that communication should always be direct and the kids should never be used to deliver messages to one another, especially messages that are contentious or upsetting. Using your children as messengers also makes them more likely to feel as if THEY are to blame for the break-up of your marriage.
Similarly, do not criticize your ex to your children or in front of them. They need not be a part of the anger and resentment because, again, they may interpret this dialogue incorrectly and assume they could have done something to prevent the divorce. Children easily revert to blaming themselves, with statements like “If only I hadn’t (fill in the blank), Mommy and Daddy would still be together.”
It’s okay to be honest if you’re angry or hurt, but don’t overshare. You don’t have to say, “Mom makes me mad” or “Daddy was mean to me”, but you can say “I’m feeling sad today” or “My feelings are hurt”. Those statements might actually help your children share their feelings as well.
Remember, you don’t have to like your ex but you do have to co-parent with them. That’s why a solid parenting plan is essential. Without explicit agreements about each person’s responsibilities, arguments can arise and plans can go awry. Parenting plans reduce misunderstandings and allow your children’s lives to run more smoothly with fewer interruptions and less angst.
If you need assistance with co-parenting issues, it’s integral to reach out to a professional who can help you get on track. Dr. Ellie Bolgar specializes in Reunification and Co-Parenting Therapy, geared towards helping families to develop an acceptable relationship while focusing on the best interest of the children. To schedule an appointment for a consultation or for more information, call 604-371-0198 or get to know us better by viewing our About Us section.