Children tend to prefer stability and predictability over change. Stability and predictability feel safe. Divorce means change.
On the other hand, a home with significant conflict also does not feel safe, and even without open conflict a home where love between the parents is missing sets our children up to accept that as normal. A bad marriage is not what we want to teach our children to expect for their own futures.
Therefore, if we want to avoid a divorce being an overall negative for our children, we need to find ways to make the change lead to something better. A reduction in conflict between the parents because they are not living together can be a positive. New and better relationships can be a positive.
The secret is to allow the positives while avoiding the negatives. Ways to do this include:
1. Keep the conflict away from the children. Don’t argue in front of them.
You will need to have discussions about various divorce issues, but save those discussions for times or places away from the children. Meet at a coffee house, step away from your desk at work, go for a walk, etc. This also means not criticizing the other parent in front of the children, even in conversations with friends (children have big ears).
2. Let a professional guide the conversation.
Discussions about divorce issues can be very frustrating when we disagree but don’t know how to resolve the disagreement. When that happens, tempers flare, and the discussion gets even less productive. A professional mediator or family therapist has tools and methods for leading the discussion down productive paths and avoiding the less helpful tangents, for putting out brush fires that block the path, and for jointly setting the goals the path should lead toward.
3. Reassure the children.
Emphasize that both of you still love them and will be continuing to work together on parenting. Be positive, and this means you have to feel positive – children readily see through you faking it. To be able to convey a positive attitude, you need to develop a positive attitude. Meditate on the positives of your new life like new relationships, new opportunities, and reduced conflict rather than the negatives.
4. Focus on presenting a united front.
Even when the two of you disagree about parenting, find a way to work out those differences away from the children and then both support the agreement in front of the children. Not only will this give the children much greater stability and less confusion in their lives going forwards, but it will avoid the children learning to play one parent off against the other (“Mom lets us …”, “Dad doesn’t make us …”, etc.), and that will make YOUR lives easier.