This is the first part of a five part series on what not to do in a divorce with children, written by Michelle Engler at Examiner.com. Be sure and tune in to Examiner.com over the next week when part 2-5 of this series will be posted.
Studies show that divorce itself is not what damages children, but how the parents conduct themselves and what they do after is the key. Parents love their children and want what is best for them. If you are going through a divorce, you are likely to be concerned about how this will affect your children. Take comfort in knowing that if you put your children first and read about how to handle situations that arise, your children can grow up just and healthy and happy as those from parents who stay together. There is a good basic article on Helping your child through a divorce from Kids Health that you may want to read. There are also a few important tips that you should keep in mind, that will be covered over this and the next four articles.
1. Do not put down your ex-spouse in front of your children.
This may be very difficult for some of you, especially if the marriage was difficult or your spouse hurt you. Emotions run high, especially at first and for some, for years to come. You are going through so many emotions that it may be hard to catch yourself and think about your children. Remember that your children are just that….children. They are not your friends or someone to vent to. Use your resources and talk to your family and friends. And remember to do it out of earshot of your kids. Kids listen to everything! Even if you do not bad mouth your ex to them directly, they can pick up plenty by hearing you talk to others. They will also be paying attention when you and your ex talk in person or on the telephone.
Watch what you say around them when talking things out with your ex. Make sure that you find a way to have a calm moment and make a committment together to follow certain rules when it comes to the children. Decide to put them first. That means do not argue in front of them. If you have to fuss it out, do it in private. You may decide that you do not like each other, but remember that your children love you both. Let them have that. Do not try to influence your child to dislike the other parent. It won’t work and they may grow up to resent you once they are old enough to figure out what you were doing. Spare your children the gory details.
Once your children are grown, you may want to share the truth about your marriage and divorce as you see it. At that point, they can hear both sides and decide how they feel about it or not even want to know about it. But while they are young, do not tell your children that your ex cheated or that they were lazy or anything else you are angry about. This just creates confusion for the children. They are going through enough stress as it is. They are probably worried about their future, missing one parent or the other, wondering if any of it is their fault, etc. They do not need the extra stress of sorting through your bad feelings. This will just create trust issues for you and your children. They need to be able to trust both of their parents and that is difficult when one parent or both parents are actively trying to convince the children that the other is bad or is at fault. Remember that marriage and parenting are two separate things.
Your spouse may not have made you happy in marriage, but if they are a safe parent, then allow your children to have that relationship without all the drama. Be grateful that your children will grow up with a mother and a father, even though you are not together. You should encourage that relationship and think about what your children have to gain in that security of having two parents that love and want them. And by all means, do not ask your children to spy on your ex for you.
Your kids need to be able to enjoy their time with their other parent without trying to gather information for you. They will feel guilty, confused and again, won’t know who to trust. Believe me, it works both ways as well. While you may be having them come home and tell you everything you wanted to know, they are likely telling your ex all that he/she wants to know. It is okay to ask about their visit. Just do not ask your children probing or personal questions like, “did your mom say anything about a new boyfriend?” or anything else of a personal nature. Your children should be made to feel comfortable and just be kids. As hard as it might be, just focus on your life and future and do not have them spy for you.
It takes some work and adjustment, but families can function and even be healthy and happy even throuh divorce. Just remember to separate your feelings about your ex and your divorce from what it best for your child. Talk to your ex and be sure you are on the same page when it comes to putting the kids first and following some basic rules. Pass along reading information to your ex so that you can discuss these issues and agree on some rules. Be sure and tune in over the next week when part 2-5 of this series will be posted.