Written By: Stephen L. Cawelti, Child Custody Attorney
Contrary to popular opinion, divorce does not have to be riddled with drama and it does not have to scar your kids.
Will your divorce be an adjustment for them? Yes. But there are many things that you can do to make the transition easier on them (and, in turn, you).
So what can you do to help your kids transition through your divorce?
Read my top 5 tips below.
1. Don’t Talk Bad About Your Ex
If you want your divorce to be as painless as possible for your children, talk respectfully about and towards your ex. This does not mean you have to like them. It does mean, however, that you have to set aside some of your pride for the benefit of your child.
Whether you like it or not, your ex is your child’s parent. And unless there is abuse involved, your child is entitled to have a relationship with them. Don’t taint that relationship; it will only hurt your child.
What if your ex is not willing to meet in the middle and work together to respectfully co-parent your child? First, make sure to communicate to your kid that they are not the cause or the reason for your dispute with your ex. Use this as an opportunity to model healthy behavior and conflict resolution. And remember, in a custody battle, the court’s number one priority is the well being of the child. Courts do not look favorably on parents who attempt to use their children to get even with the other, or who try to put their children in the middle of the mess.
2. Model Self Care
Just like in an airplane emergency, it is important that you first secure your own oxygen mask before you help others. Go to therapy, exercise, eat right, pursue a new hobby and take care of yourself. Your children will inevitably go through their own challenges in life, so use this as an opportunity to show them how to practice self care during a tough time. Remember, the people around you will be happiest when you have inner peace and prioritize your own well being.
3. Be Honest but Age-Appropriate
Protect your kids in age appropriate ways using age appropriate words and concepts that they are ready for. Some kids feel that they are somehow responsible for alleviating the stress and heartbreak that their parents feel during their divorce. Let your child know that you have a handle on your divorce, that you will always be there for them, and that while it is hard for you right now, you will be ok. (see tip #2).
4. Let Them Be Kids
As much as is feasible (schedule-wise and financially), keep the normal routine going. Kids thrive on stability and an established routine. When creating a custody schedule, put yourself in your child’s shoes and think about how their new schedule will affect them. Take into account their extracurricular activities and their own personal preferences. Divorce is hard enough on children, try not to take away their outlets.
5. Enlist Outside Help
It takes a village to raise a child, make sure that your village is looped in on the situation so that they can support your child. Talk to your children’s teachers, administrators, coaches, and mentors about what is going on and enlist their help in watching for any warning signs that your child might be struggling.
Therapy is a great resource for children who are trying to navigate the emotions surrounding their parents’ divorce. Some kids will initially be wary of therapy due to certain stigmas. Help them understand that a lot of kids (and adults) benefit from therapy during major life transitions. Chances are, many of their friends have gone to therapy too! You might consider going to therapy yourself, not only for your own emotional benefit, but to show them that going to therapy is normal and beneficial. If they are still hesitant, it can also help to find examples of individuals who your child looks up to who have openly attended therapy.
Divorce does not have to equal disaster. Your children are resilient, and while the divorce may be difficult on them, they can come out on top. Don’t forget to give yourself grace in this process as well. Together, you will get through it.