Children do make divorce harder.
Because they are so easily hurt by the divorce, we have to work much harder to create an outcome that will not only be positive for ourselves, but positive for them as well – and sometimes those two goals are not well matched.
For instance, you might feel your future would be happiest if you just never had contact with your ex again, but losing contact with their other parent could be extremely damaging to your children.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you want the best outcome for your children:
Work hard to protect their relationship with the other parent.
This may not be comfortable for you. You may be very angry with your ex, you may feel very hurt by them, you may think they are scum. But they are still the other parent to your children.
As a friend once said, even when you are no longer husband and wife, you are still Mom and Dad (or Mom and Mom, or Dad and Dad, or maybe even some other labels). Even if you do not think the other parent is a particularly good parent, having a relationship with both parents is extremely important to children. Therefore it is important to do what you can to preserve and support your children’s relationship with the other parent.
That means making sure they have significant time with both parents, and are assured that both parents love and care about them.
Protect them from the conflict.
Closely tied to preserving relationships with the other parent is the importance of protecting the children from the conflict between the two parents.
Don’t fill them in on the gory details of the divorce. Don’t badmouth the other parent (even if the other deserves it). Don’t leave divorce papers lying around where a child could read them. Don’t argue with the other parent in front of the children. Think about how a screaming match at a child exchange impacts the children.
And finally, don’t put the kids in the middle. This means don’t ask them to make choices. Don’t ask them which parent they would like to live with, or how much time they would like to spend with each parent. When you do this, you are asking them to declare their loyalty.
Having to choose to be more loyal to one parent than the other is an awful position to put a child in.
Develop the ability to co-parent while in different household.
Both parents will have different parenting styles and different rules. Part of co-parenting is recognizing that fact and supporting the style and rules of the other household as well as your own.
Just because the other parent handles a situation differently is not a reason to criticize that parent. Support the other parent’s decisions even if you do it differently in your household. Both parents should be able to tell the children that both styles and rules are valid, and support both.
If the two of you can talk from time to time about important parenting decisions, it will be much easier to present a united front to the children. This is not only for the children’s benefit, but yours as well. Without a united front, children will learn to play both of you off against the other, making parenting harder for both parents. If you can say “We have decided …”, the children will have much clearer boundaries.
Bonus Hint – Work with a child specialist.
A child specialist can help you develop a parenting plan designed around the children’s needs rather than your own desires. If possible, work with the specialist together. If your spouse can’t or won’t join you in those meetings, then still work with them yourself.
A child specialist should have a good background in child development and psychology, and can alert you to current problems or possible future issues that you may not be aware of. Kids are remarkably good at hiding their distress from their parents, especially when they perceive the parents to be in distress themselves.
The child specialist can advise you on strategies for effective co-parenting, suggest provisions to strengthen the parenting plan, and help both parents talk through any disagreements about how best to parent.