Raising Healthy Kids Post Divorce
Our expert guest blogger and therapist, Erika Myers, shares her helpful advice with us on how to maintain your relationship with your children post divorce. Learn what steps to take to ensure you continue to provide a healthy environment where you can nurture your children.
Steps for Maintaining Strong Parenting Post Divorce
First and foremost is maintain respect. Speak to and about your ex respectfully. No matter what the circumstances surrounding the divorce, he is still the father of your children. For kids, hearing one parent badmouth the other is scary, confusing, and engenders feelings of guilt and betrayal. Encourage your friends and family to be respectful as well. There is a natural inclination on the part of loved ones to show their support by taking sides. As much as possible, avoid that kind of dynamic, particularly in front of the kids as it can put them in the middle.
As much as possible, try to develop a collaborative co-parenting model with your ex. Try to keep similar rules and consequences in both households. Handle conversations about logistics in a businesslike manner. Think of this as a job that you are both doing together. (You don’t always have to like your co-workers, but you do have to deal with them). Keep the emotions out of your exchanges as much as possible. Don’t let disagreements about visitations, pick-up, drop-off, and discipline shift into rehashing issues that were present in your relationship. Stay focused on the kids.
Let your kids be kids. Often a change in family circumstances does lead to a shift and redistribution of responsibilities, but you are still the parent – it is your job to take care of them. Avoid telling your son that he is the “man of the house now” as it puts undue pressure on him. It is scary for kids to see their parents struggling and falling apart. You can show that you are sad, but they need to feel that you are still in control. If you are struggling significantly with anger, sadness, or any unresolved issues, find a therapist or another professional to help you work through that.
That being said, it is important to talk to your kids about the divorce and to make it ok for them to share what they are feeling. Make sure that you answer their questions with age-appropriate responses. As much as possible, plan out with your ex how you are going to handle the big questions (Why did you get a divorce? Why did daddy leave?). Keep your answers simple, direct, and as honest as you both feel is appropriate. This is not the time to assign blame or talk down your ex. It is ok to say something like “mommy and daddy just couldn’t live together anymore, but we both love you very much. No matter what happens that will never change.”
Finally, remember that divorce does not signal the end of a family, but rather a restructuring. Kids thrive in happy, stable homes – no matter how many parents live there. Removing yourself and them from a tense and conflict-laden household can turn out to be a tremendous opportunity for each of you.
Erika Myers, EdM, MS, LPC, Therapist, www.emcounseling.com