By Tracy Fischer
Our children are an integral part of our lives and keeping them safe and feeling secure is what parenting is all about. Parenting together after divorce presents new challenges to an already difficult process, but navigating painful emotions to maintain a united front is an essential part of the job. The bottom line is, kids feel healthiest when their parents get along.
Breaking the News
Depending on age, discuss the process openly in your family. If possible, include both parents in the discussion. Emphasize that while the family is changing, it is not ending. Divorce means that a marriage is over, it does not mean that a parent’s relationship to his or her child is over. Your children should feel secure that both their parents love them and neither parent will leave their lives. Make sure they understand that the divorce is not their fault, that there is nothing that they can or should do to change things. If possible, tell your children what decisions have been made, where they will live and that they will still be spending time with both parents. Remember to answer their questions with as much care and honesty as possible. They will probably have quite a few questions, and answering them, repeatedly if necessary, will help them regain the sense of security that they’ve lost.
Dealing With Your Own Hurt
Painful feelings are a natural part of the divorce process. When co-parenting, however, those emotions must take a back seat. Remember to make the happiness and security of the children your shared priority. When feelings of pain and anger arise, take them into a separate space. Try to make sure those feelings don’t leak out into interactions with your children. Find a therapist or a close friend to lean on instead. Be aware of your body language as well. Make a conscious effort to take deep breaths and relax your shoulders. If you’re feeling momentarily tense, smile. It’s remarkable how some emotions can work from the outside-in. Divorce mediation or counseling can allow divorcing parents the opportunity to sort through and communicate some of those unpleasant feeling. Sometimes, just the opportunity to express them and know that they have been heard an acknowledged by the other parent may be a start to letting them go.
Keeping the Kids Out of It
Children should not be the messengers or the go-betweens. When they are used as messengers, it puts them in the middle of your conflict, and conflict is what you are trying to protect them from. As difficult as it may feel, when a problem arises, call, email or speak face to face with your ex yourself. If the divorce left a sour taste, remember that communication improves when following a few simple rules: use a cordial or businesslike tone, place your children at the center of the conversation (this is not about personal feelings, it is about doing your best together for the kids), listen, really listen, make requests – not demands, and commit to meeting or speaking on a regular basis. Studies have shown that it is not divorce that causes emotional harm to children, but the level of conflict between their parents.
Rules were rules when you all lived in one house, that should not change now that you live in two. This is where solid, cordial communication with your ex really helps. Make sure that you agree upon a set of rules; then apply them consistently. Going from one house to the other should not make it easier for kids to go around the normal rules of conduct, nor is it good for them to do so. Consistency helps them to know that their parents are still working together. Consistency gives them a sense of normalcy. Consistency makes them feel secure. And, ultimately, making a safe, secure, healthy environment for your children is the most important goal. Divorce mediation gives parents the environment to mutually agree upon rules for the children and standards of communication between them that can be helpful for years to come.
For more information on this or other topics involving mediation, please contact me.