By: Breanna Latt
Though a divorce may be necessary, it can be hard on everyone involved. As a parent, you need to put your child’s best interests above your own feelings about your ex. My parents divorced when I was just 1 year old, and I learned several lessons from the ways they handled the situation.
Here are my top 8 ways to help your child through your divorce, from the child’s perspective.
1. Do not bad mouth the other parent of your child.
As difficult as it may feel, and as much as you may hate your ex, don’t badmouth them to your child.
My parents divorced when I was 1, and I can remember that my parents always talked poorly of each other. This went so far that, in order to convince me he wasn’t the bad guy, my dad put every communication between him and my mom in a box. When I was a kid, he also had me write down things my mom had told me about him to add to the box. Then, when I became an adult at 18, he gave me the box to show all the negative things my mom had done. So I had grown up hearing my mom tell me how my dad didn’t want to spend time with me and didn’t love me, just to read emails from her years later trying to take time with me away from him.
There are so many choices to make for your children in regards to religion, private or public school, behaviors that are allowed, proper punishment, etc. Unless your child is old enough and specifically tells you he or she wants X, Y or Z, do not force your child to make difficult decisions that they normally would not be making.
For example, before the divorce, would your child be choosing which school to go to, or would you and your ex have decided that together? In my case, my mom wanted me to attend a charter school and my dad wanted me to attend public school. So for months my dad tried to convince me of all the experiences I’d be missing out on at a charter school, and my mom tried to convince me that I wouldn’t get into good colleges with a public school education. So, 12-year-old me not only had to pick a side between Mom and Dad, but I also had to decide if I wanted to not get into college or to grow up without social skills.
Don’t put your child in a position like that to make a decision they aren’t prepared to, and don’t make your child take sides. If you truly want to leave the decision up to them, come together with your ex to come up with pros and cons, then meet together with your child and have a calm, rational conversation. Your child shouldn’t know which parent wants which decision, because it no longer becomes the child’s decision, it becomes an impossible people-pleasing task.
3. Be supportive of your child spending time with the other parent.
As a single mom, I understand why my mom didn’t want me to leave her to see my dad; it must have been lonely when I was gone. But guess what? You are the parent, so you have no choice but to be the adult in the situation. You can feel lonely or angry or anything else to watch your child spend time with your ex — that’s totally and completely valid and understandable. But your child should not know you feel this way.
I’ve spent time with foster children, and the thing about children is they want their parents no matter what. The only thing you will do if you act unsupportive about your child seeing their other parent is cause your child pain. It is difficult; I get it. But your child needs to go before your emotions. Emotions are temporary, but how you interact with your child in a divorce will impact them for the rest of their life.
4. Listen to your child’s complaints about the other parent; don’t join in.
What if your child doesn’t like their other parent? That’s fine. If your child comes to you complaining that their other parent did or said something, you can and should be a listening ear. This is NOT the time to agree with the child and make additions to the conversation. This is the time to validate their emotions (“It’s OK that you feel this way.”) and ask how you can support them.
5. Stay involved, even if it means contact with the other parent.
You may not like the other parent, but those feelings should never come above your child. When you choose to not attend games, recitals or other events to avoid the other parent, it sends your child the message that they aren’t important enough. Even if you talk with your child about your reasons for not coming, unless your physical well-being is at stake, your relationship with the other parent is NOT a good excuse for missing events. Your child doesn’t care about how you feel about the other parent, they care that you show up for them!
6. You are the parent — act like it.
Your child will need to grieve the divorce too. You are going to have to put your feelings aside to be there for your child. You are grieving too, and it’s impossible to be perfect all of the time, but you should try your hardest to support your child through this difficult time.
7. Take care of yourself.
Most of this article has been very blunt, but I don’t want to devalue the difficulty of this situation on everyone involved. Often the decision of divorce is not an easy one, but a necessary one. I’d have much rather grown up with two households than one with my parents not loving each other or fighting constantly. You need to give yourself grace and love. It will be so much harder to support your child if you aren’t supporting yourself with love and kindness. Your children watch how you handle situations. What could be better than showing them how to love themselves through hard times? If you break down, acknowledge you are having a hard time, that it’s OK and that it’s normal.
8. Know that your children will be OK.
Do your best, show up, and be kind. Even though the years following my parents’ divorce was far from perfect, I love both my parents very deeply. As an adult, I can acknowledge that they both made mistakes during very difficult years in their lives, but it had nothing to do with their love for me. I now feel lucky to have two families filled with people who love me. Although it may not feel like it, your children are better off to have two households, than for you to stay in a marriage you aren’t happy in. Model what you believe is best for your children and know they will be OK.
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