Divorce is tough. It’s tough for adults, but it’s arguably tougher for children. Children have limited control, lesser developed social and coping skills, and a natural tendency to blame themselves. Sadly, parents often increase strain during (and after) divorce by putting their child “in the middle” – and it can cause significant and lasting issues. For your child, being “in between” two homes should never mean being “in the middle” of adult conflict and problems. Dr. Robert E. Emery has published an excellent Children’s Bill of Rights in Divorce. Read it. Then read it again. Then make a decision to prioritize your child and his or her needs over your own.
Here are my top 7 ways to make your divorce (and life after it) easier for your child.
7. Keep your child’s life relatively stable.
Sometimes change is unavoidable, but in most divorces a routine can be maintained for your child. Consistency with school and extracurricular activities will help your child adjust to changes at home. Try to keep your child’s life as stable as possible, especially for the first year or two.
6. Allow your child to have private conversations with the other parent.
Your child had a personal relationship with both you and your partner before the divorce. Both relationships are very important for your child. Your son or daughter has a fundamental right to privacy, and eavesdropping on phone calls sends the wrong signal. What’s more, it’s pointless (i.e. they can talk privately at the other house). Don’t demand supervision of conversations with the other parent.
5. Keep parent conversations between adults – and keep them private.
Never ask your child to be messenger for you. Listen for yourself saying “tell your father (or mother) …” and then STOP. That approach puts your child squarely in the middle of adult conflict and that’s never okay. Instead, pick up the phone, text, or write an email and explain your thoughts or position directly to the other parent.
And while we’re on the topic of parent-to-parent communication, we might as well address disagreements. Your child probably knows that you don’t get along, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to continue arguing in front of him or her. It’s like salt on a wound. If there’s one good thing about divorce, it’s that parents no longer need to argue in front of their child. For your child’s sake, keep arguments private.
4. Think about your divorce from your child’s perspective.
When you talk with your child, don’t ask about the other parent. Instead, ask your child to tell you about his or her feelings, circumstances, and activities during the time away from you. Then listen.
3. Let your kid be a kid.
Go see a counselor if you need one. Your child is not your counselor, and it’s not fair to impose your problems, emotions, or responsibilities on him or her. Divorce is a difficult and emotional process. Your child will probably have questions, but in answering be mindful that your thoughts and feelings are very different than your child’s thoughts and feelings. This also means not treating your child like a private investigator. No one likes to answer probing questions (i.e. “what all did daddy drink the other night”). Your child is not your spy. Finally, don’t treat your child like a pawn during negotiations.
2. Refrain from saying bad things about the other parent.
Most court orders specify that parents are to refrain from making “disparaging remarks” about the other parent or other parent’s family. It’s not just an order, but it’s good advice too. You may need to vent (i.e. to your best friend on the phone), but don’t just start ranting if your child is around. Kids listen to most of what you say, especially when you’re angry or emotional. So clear the space and ensure privacy before venting. Or better yet, just let go of whatever you’re venting about – multiple problems solved!
1. Encourage your child’s emotional attachment to the other parent.
Don’t be threatened by your child’s affection for the other parent. Parents often passively or actively undermine their child’s relationship with the other parent, and it’s extremely detrimental. Instead of undermining, you should promote. Promote the idea that the other parent loves your child. Also promote your child’s affection for the other parent in return. Never suggest choosing one parent over the other. Instead, promote choosing and loving both parents. Supporting your child in this way is liberating, and that freedom will do more than you can imagine.