Divorce is one of the most stressful experiences a family can endure. For adults, divorce is a time when disappointments replace dreams, discontent replaces contentment, separation replaces closeness, and uncertainty replaces security. For children, divorce can be a time of loss, confusion and often, fear.
When parents take care to address the challenges of divorce, they can protect their children from potentially debilitating experiences. Here are some common-sense ways that parenting in the divorce zone can assure continued positive growth of their children.
Tell the kids together. It’s best for you both to sit down together to explain calmly to your children that you are moving apart. Explain what will change in the children’s lives and what will stay the same. Let them know that they are not the reason you are separating and that you believe – even though it could be hard at first – that it will help everyone in the long run. Tell them that you love them and will work to make the changes good for everyone. Answer their questions if they hav eany and listen to their feelings without probing in the moment.
You’re parents forever. Although your spousal relationship has ended, your role as co-parents is still essential. Work to achieve co-operative parenting in as many aspects of your children’s lives as possible. If co-operation is not always possible, it’s still essential to not interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the children. Don’t focus on their actions or behaviours, but instead spend that time and energy on your kids.
Keep disagreements from your children. Children are not able to solve adult problems and should not find themselves in the middle of their parents’ disagreements. They cannot choose between homes or families. If there are ongoing conflicts, let your children know that they are adult issues that you are working out as adults, and that your children did not cause them and it is not their job to resolve them.
Support the child’s relationship with the other parent. Children need to have a positive relationship with both parents. They need permission to love both parents and to know that arrangements are being made for contact with both, but that decision making on which parents they see and when they see them is not their responsibility. Sometimes parents in the divorce zone find it hard to hear their child’s views about the other parent or about their experiences in the other home. Remember that seemingly neutral comments can carry subtle, implicit messages (e.g. “Must be nice for your mom/dad to be able to do all those fun things with you.”).
Acknowledge the child’s feelings regarding loss and conflict. Allow your children to talk to you when they’re ready. Validate their confused or hurt feelings and remember not to blame the other partner or your child for those feelings. Simply listen and reflect back in simple words what the child is saying. It’s important that your children feel listened to, but you do not need to fix their feelings. Be empathic toward their feelings and keep your own feelings or beliefs to yourself.
Acknowledge your differences in parenting. Reassure your children that it’s not their fault or burden, and that you understand that these differences can make things hard and sometimes confusing for them. Avoid undermining the other parent’s parenting. Ignore small issues and remember you cannot control what happens in the other house, nor can they control what happens in yours.
If co-operating with your former partner isn’t working or if you’re worried about how your children are adjusting to the changes, consult with a counsellor. Following divorce, many parents are understandably angry and mistrusting of each other, and maintaining focus on their common goal in wanting the best for their children can be hard. Working with a counsellor can help both parents move forward and not compromise their children’s formative years.
If you are struggling with divorce or co-parenting and need support, counselling is available to Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage. Reach out for support here. (Sign in to mybluecross® to confirm your coverage.)