By Laura Lifshitz
Our children are bystanders in the divorce process. Theyoverave no control in the matter and can often just sit or stand by and watch as their families change, drastically. Depending on the age of the child and the child’s individual personality, some kids will roll with divorce more easily than others. Not to mention, a child will fare better and come out happy despite divorce if the two parents are both active parents who for the most part, get along. This doesn’t mean you and your former spouse have to be “BFF’s,” but that the more you get along, the easier it is in general.
Keeping this in mind that our children are bystanders and the “audience” of the whole divorce debacle, how can we minimize the negative impacts a divorce can bring? Because our kids aren’t part of a passive audience: the divorce changes their lives in many ways.
Whether you’re separating, newly divorced or an old seasoned “pro” at divorce, keep in mind these 4 perspectives when parenting children after divorce.
Your children identify with both of you
Your ex may indeed, be a piece of fecal matter to you and perhaps to your children, but calling out all of your former spouse’s bad traits to your children like a sports announcer, is a no-no.
This is really tough. Some kids don’t seem to see the “writing on the wall” when it comes to a bad parent. Or, worse the “bad parent” may mess emotionally with the child’s/children’s emotions.
No matter what though, do not disparage or belittle the other parent. Let your children decide and learn for themselves who you both are. You would not want your former spouse doing it to you.
And the bottom line is, kids see themselves in both parents. So, if you go and belittle your former spouse, your kids will view it as an attack on their own characters. What if they share daddy’s temper? What if they share mommy’s “emotional nature?”
Be careful what you say. Children will learn on their own one day, if a parent is indeed, a bad parent. You don’t need to narrate this.
Your children may randomly have bad moods
Your kid may seem anxious or grouchy. Your kid may seem tired constantly after coming back from the other parent’s house.
Yes, it could mean there are issues there, or it could just be simply the exhaustion of going from home to home, or general moodiness from the change in home routines. Remember, both homes will have different dynamics, and some homes may have two drastically different dynamics. For my daughter, it’s just the two of us here, but at her dad’s house, she has a stepmom and a new baby brother. Trying to switch gears mentally can be tiring for your kids. Consider how you feel if you work and go from work to home, and vice versa. It takes a lot out of you.
Your children will do better if they like new partners and half/stepsiblings
It is a big ego adjustment to know your kids will have another person to love in your place at the other person’s home. And indeed, your ex may be dating or married to someone who is not your cup of tea.
The bad news is you have no control over it. The good news is you do have control over how you respond.
If your children do not like a stepdad, mom, or half/stepsiblings, this is not a victory for you.
This is sad.
While it does happen, of course, do the opposite, and hope and pray your kids love the new partner and potential step or half siblings.
As a parent, your job is to want the best for your kids and to love the heck out of them. So, do your job. Allow them to love and enjoy these other people in their lives. Do not get in the way of it, especially if they are nice people because as we know, some stepparents aren’t. Some parents aren’t, too!
Keep in mind: if your kids are happy at the other parent’s home, they will be well-adjusted and do better in life. Hope and want the best!
Your children will be protective of “both families”
Don’t put your kid in the middle. On occasion, it’s fine to have the child ask an appropriate question to your former spouse, if it doesn’t stress the child and makes the matter easier for everyone involved.
However, keep in mind that your child is not responsible for:
- Managing your ex’s behavior
- Keeping your ex informed on things that adults should handle
- Alleviating the tension between two co-parents that don’t get along
Really, your child will be protective of both you, and your former spouse and the family members involved in both homes. Your child cannot help this protective nature: it’s his or her family, and make no mistake, your child understands that both co-parents may not get alone and this will impact your child’s need to protect everyone.
No child should feel this way, but kids of divorce often do. They don’t want anyone criticizing the other parent because ultimately, kids love both parents.
Don’t be surprised if your child is tight-lipped or defensive about stuff that goes on in the other parent’s home. Don’t be surprised if the other parent happens to be negligent, and the child still seems protective. It all goes back to the loyalty a child will feel, even if a child’s parent is not a healthy one.
Eventually, this will dissipate as children get older, but remember that it’s normal for kids to protect and also, feel in the middle over two parents who have divorced.
If your kids are happy at the other parent’s home, they will be well-adjusted and do better in life.
The key in all of this is empathy. One of the best things I ever did since my divorce was to talk to children of divorce to hear their experiences so I could begin to vaguely understand my daughter’s world.
It may not be perfect, but really, no family is. Married, divorced or otherwise. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Instead, just be the best parent you could be and be the example. Show your kids how to treat others and how to treat themselves. Kindness goes a long way and for those who are not kind, karma is a bitch.
About the Author
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated writer, comedienne, single mother and chocolate fanatic. A former MTV personality and Columbia University graduate, you can find her work in many places, like the New York Times, DivorceForce, Mom.Me, Women’s Health, Worthy, Working Mother and numerous other sites. Follow her on Facebook and her own website, frommtvtomommy.com.