So you’re getting a divorce- feeling ashamed, embarrassed, worried about messing up your kids? It’s so hard to make an adult decision about your marriage and not worry about how it will affect your children. And now you and your spouse will each have more control over how you parent, what you do in your own home, and how you spend time with your kids. Here’s some advice from the experts; adults whose parents divorced. Take it from them, they lived through it already.
Nicole advises, “You are getting divorced your kids are not! SO you need to figure out how to be adults and keep the FAMILY together. They should not have to choose, they should not have to white knuckle every holiday because YOU decided to move on”
Jessica said, “1. Don't fight in front of them. 2. Don't speak negatively about the other parent. 3. Try to keep them in school consistently. 4. Get them counseling even if you don't think they need it. Don't use the "kids are resilient" excuse. They are not as resilient as you think.”
Liz stresses communication and honesty, “Open communication is key! Honesty is so important. Therapy can be helpful for the kids too.”
Emotional Stability of the grownups is really important. Make sure you are getting the support that you need to take care of yourselves and don’t use your children as weapons. Keep your kids at the forefront of all your decisions.
Rhiannon shared, “Think of the children, seriously. You can be angry and hurt and betrayed and whatever emotions you want, but do not be petty and snide and try to destroy each other's image. …It's fine to argue or whatever around the kids, but don't pull them from their homes in the middle of the night, don't tell them you're monitoring the other parent's phone calls, and please never put them in a situation where they have to watch a parent get in trouble with the law. Do not sabotage each other for the sake of getting what you want; it will only serve to traumatize your child and make it impossible for them to trust either of you.”
Environmental Stability is equally as important- as much as you can do to keep routines, school, bedtime the same, the easier it is for kids to adjust to the many changes that are happening in your family.
Rita expressed, “Please understand that we're going through just as much as you are. Our foundation, our family, is breaking apart. Please realize that we're having trouble too and don't hold it against us. When everything is changing, please try to be a rock for us, try to give us some stability in this unstable time. Try to understand where we're coming from.”
It’s important that children have contact with both parents. Today, more and more families have 50/50 shared parenting time. This wasn’t the case in the 60s-90s.
Geoffrey said, “Make sure that both parents fulfill their responsibilities to their children. This means being physically, financially and emotionally present. Fathers are often pushed out of the picture either by moms making visitation difficult or by their own guilt. Don't let this happen.”
HJ shared, “I certainly haven't figured out the part of not causing shock, but I do think it is possible to stay very connected with our children during hard times. Make yourself more available, play more games, watch more movies together, set up special times with each of them to do something just the two of you
Letting kids share how they feel is important. Keeping communication open for them to ask questions and talk is a gift you can give your kids.
Patrice said, “Let them be upset. My mother often told me that the divorce had not upset me because I was too young to know whatever's happening. I grew up trying to believe that but it wasn't true that it had not hurt me. She thought of the divorce as an event, but I experienced it as a lifelong condition.”
Geoffrey felt, “Give them opportunities to bring up hard feelings by paying good attention to them, helping them laugh so that the tears may come naturally.”
Tovah shared, “Try to keep your kids out of it. I think my mom did the best she could. Protect your kids especially if they’re young. Ask them what they want and consider their feelings first.”
Remember getting a divorce is not an event, it’s a new configuration of your life and you navigating it as your children are growing up is complex. See my recent blog on nurturing your divorce.
This blog is part 1 of 2 in this sub-series.
Jody Comins, MSW is a Divorce & Family Mediator and Collaborative Coach in the Greater Boston area. She is an adult child of divorce and uses her experience to create a child-centered practice at A Better Way: Divorce Mediation. She is a mentor for volunteer mediators in the Norfolk Probate & Family Court and a court approved facilitator for the required parenting classes in MA.