A divorce is never easy. Kids often feel the brunt of it and can blame themselves for what’s happening. Even in the case of an amicable divorce, things can get rocky, and the kids are left in the middle. It’s never an easy situation for anyone, but especially for young children.
Dealing with the breakdown of a marriage is tough on both parties. One of the most devastating life experiences we can go through, in fact. Still, as is always the case for parents, you need to think of the children above all else. How can you make a divorce easier on them? Here are 10 tips.
While it might be difficult, try not to argue in front of them. If there’s a dispute, or something you want to talk to the other about, bite your tongue until the kids go to bed (if you're still living in the same house for now), or save the argument for a time when the kids aren’t around. Perhaps for a follow-up call later.
The more kids see you argue, the sadder they’ll become. They’ll start to feel guilty, too, especially if the arguments are about them, on topics like custody, money, or responsibilities.
Depending on the relationship between the two parents, if it’s civil enough, try to have “family” nights once a month, at least during the beginning of the transition. This will show the kids that even though their parents aren’t still together, they can still enjoy a family dinner, family game night, or a trip to the park every now and then.
Spending an hour or two with the person you’re no longer married to might seem like torture, but the way it will make the kids feel will be totally worth the sacrifice.
You might secretly look at your ex and want to... well, feelings may run high, but your child (and theirs) doesn’t need to know that. You don’t need to be friendly, but you at least need to be civil.
If the other parent is dropping the child off or picking them up, make the effort to be cordial. If the child sees that you don’t have a vendetta against their other parent, they’ll feel a lot more comfortable about the situation and less likely to want to lay blame on one parent over the other, which wouldn’t be healthy for them in the long run.
You might no longer be in love with one another, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support each other. In a perfect world, co-parenting would go smoothly, but that isn’t always the case. You can make an effort to offer support when you can, though, as long as it isn’t one-sided.
That means making child support payments on time, picking the child up from school on occasion if the other party can’t make it (knowing that they’ll do the same for you should a similar situation arise), and keeping each other informed of any issues at school, home, with friends, homework, and more.
Under no circumstances should you ever blame the children for the breakdown of a marriage, or make them feel in any way, shape, or form that it was their fault. Reinforce the fact that you both love them very much, and just as much as you did before, but the two of you simply don’t love each other the way you used to. It doesn’t change how you feel about the children.
Kids will be riddled with guilt regardless, since their parents were together before they were born and now apart after. So, it’s critical that you constantly assure them that it has nothing to do with them.
Birthdays, special occasions, awards, graduations – they can all be tough on divorced parents and kids of divorced parents. Even if your relationship is completely sour with your ex, you’ll need to suck it up for those big life moments. While your child’s graduation might fall on your weekend, for example, there’s no reason the other parent can’t join the festivities. Ditto for birthdays and other occasions.
Be reasonable about holidays, and invite your ex to the birthday party you’re throwing so your child can see that they are the most important person in both of your lives, and someone they can put their differences aside for.
Common among divorced parents is the desire to become the “favorite” parent, and that often includes showering the child with lavish gifts – toys, trips, days out for ice cream, dinners, show tickets – you name it. Be careful not to spoil the child so much that they start pitting parents against one another, as they reap the benefits of each one’s desire to outshine the other.
Focus on spending quality time with the kids whenever you’re with them, and don’t go over and above to try and win their love. In the end, while they might enjoy spending time with you because they get lots of “stuff,” it'll be the memories of time spent together that they hold dearly going forward.
It might be tempting to bad-mouth your ex, or talk about how they make bad decisions or drove you away with their selfishness or financial irresponsibility. Don’t do it. Remember, while that other person might no longer be your spouse, they are still the child’s parent. You don’t want your child growing up thinking that one or both of their parents are terrible people.
Instead, try and focus on the positive aspects of your ex, noting that they love the child very much. As well as that, as the saying goes, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, just don’t say anything at all.
Obviously, the break-up of a family requires major changes. These can include moving house, getting familiar with another house or apartment, and, of course, living without both of your parents. Try to make minimal changes to the rest of the child’s routine, such as school pick-ups and drop-offs, after-school activities and sports, dinner traditions (even if it will now only be with one parent), meals, and more.
If you usually had a movie night every Friday, for example, keep that tradition going. If your child is enrolled in sports or extra-curricular activities, keep those going, even if you have to make concessions to make it happen. The child will appreciate a continued sense of normalcy in at least some aspects of their life.
Above all else, demonstrate how much you love your child through both words and actions. Shift all your energy to them while still allowing them time to process what’s happening and do what they usually do, whether it’s hanging out with friends after school, or staying in their rooms before dinner to do their homework, chat with friends, or play video games.
If they want to talk to the other parent on the phone more because they aren’t there, let them do what they need to do. Let them know that no matter what may have happened, it will never change the relationship between you and your child, and you will always love them more than anything.