Children often become the innocent victims of a divorce. Feelings of loss, confusion, fear, and anxiety can develop during the process and can continue to affect them well after the divorce is finalized. They generally don’t want their parents to split up and are worried about what their new life will be like. They may be concerned with whether they will need to move, how much they will be able to see their mom and dad or possibly be worried that they somehow caused their parents’ divorce.
During a divorce, children need calm, consistency, and reassurance. They need to know their parents still love them and want what is best for them. Divorcing parents need to make their children’s well-being the top priority during their divorce and give them the nurturing, comfort, and support they need to get through this life-changing event.
What Parents Should NOT Do During and After a Divorce
Going through a divorce is an emotionally sensitive and stressful time for you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. However, it is crucial to keep your focus on your children and make the transition as simple and healthy as possible. The following are things a parent should not do during and after a divorce.
1. Don’t speak negatively about your spouse.
Not making negative comments about your spouse can be challenging when you are going through a divorce because you may be feeling hurt, resentful, and angry. But it is crucial to not only avoid badmouthing your soon-to-be-ex to your children, but also to other people. Do not discuss the matter with your children and those close to your children or spouse and keep the details and your feelings about the divorce off social media. For your children’s sake, it is best to take the high road and be respectful of your spouse. You must also remember that the things you say to your children and others may be used against you in the divorce.
2. Don’t put your children in the middle.
Avoid using your children to relay information, spy on the other parent, or tell you about your spouse’s activities. If you want to know something, ask your spouse directly, and if you need to relay information or change plans, discuss it with your spouse. If your spouse asked your child not to say anything, it could put your child in a position of either having to lie to you or going against the other parent’s wishes. Similarly, it is best not to ask your children to lie for you or to not share information with your spouse.
3. Don’t ignore verbal and physical signs from your children.
Dealing with a divorce is difficult. But it is important to know your children are likely struggling with the situation, too. They may be scared, sad, and worried about what is happening to their family, so we recommend closely monitoring your child’s mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being. Verbal and physical signs can give you clues as to how your child is handling the divorce and alert you to any potential problems. Look for signs, such as changes in eating and sleeping, withdrawal from family or friends, and difficulties focusing at school or at home. If you see any concerning signs, speak with your child’s doctor or seek help from a child or family therapist.
4. Don’t keep your children in the dark but don’t tell them too much, either.
Depending on your children’s ages and maturity levels, be as honest as you can when speaking to your children about what is happening. Encouraging them to ask questions and discuss their feelings is an effective way to keep them informed while addressing any concerns or uncertainty they are experiencing. It is also important not to give them too much information. Be sure not to tell them things that they shouldn’t know, won’t understand, or can be upsetting.
5. Don’t vent to your children.
Sharing with your kids is important but make sure you don’t load your problems on them. A parent needs someone to talk to when dealing with the emotions felt during a divorce, but it is essential not to treat your child like a counselor. Venting to them about your and your spouse’s issues puts them in a position of having to provide emotional support. Your children are likely dealing with their own emotions and concerns and shouldn’t have to cope with the stress and worry of helping you with your emotions and concerns as well. It is always best to confide in a trusted friend or licensed counselor if you need someone to talk to.
6. Don’t forget to spend quality time with them.
Children need the love, support, and attention of their parents. Just because you are going through a divorce doesn’t mean your children should be pushed aside. Although you have a lot on your mind and are dealing with what will be your new reality, make sure you keep your focus on your kids. Play their favorite game, cook together, go to the park, or plan a fun trip. Be sure to spend plenty of quality time with them because they need you now more than ever.
7. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
In an effort to keep your children’s minds off of the divorce or to give them something to look forward to, you may end up making promises you can’t keep. Promising your children you will take them on a vacation that you never go on or telling them you will buy them a new bike that you ultimately never get can damage their trust in you. You may also say things that aren’t true to reassure them, such as telling them you and your spouse may reconcile when you know that is not going to be the case. Your children need to be reassured by knowing that what you say is true, so it is best not to break your promises.
8. Don’t interfere with parenting time.
A child needs quality time with both of their parents to get the love, affection, and support they need. Unfortunately, many parents interfere with their child’s time with the other parent by canceling parenting time, limiting parenting time, and consistently being early or late for pickups and drop-offs. They may also call, text, and email their child excessively while they are with the other parent, disrupting their time together. It is always best to not interfere with your parenting time arrangement and limit the amount of communication with your child during their time together.
9. Don’t use child support as a weapon.
It is every parent’s responsibility to contribute financially to their child’s upbringing. Not paying child support out of anger or resentment toward the other parent robs a child of the financial assistance they are entitled to. In addition, if a child support order is in place and you do not pay, you may be held in contempt of court. You will likely have to pay fines in addition to any overdue child support and, in some cases, may face jail time.
10. Don’t drastically change the family dynamics.
Children need stability and consistency to thrive. During a divorce, so much of their world is changing. Although change is inevitable in a divorce, it is essential to make every effort to keep things as normal as possible. Try to maintain as much of their previous routine and continue as many of their activities as possible. Make an effort to keep things consistent in their lives, so they have a sense of stability and comfort.
How Do We Tell Our Kids That We’re Getting Divorced?
One way to help children through this early stage is (according to age) to openly discuss what is happening in the family. In some cases, it makes more sense for children to hear about the separation from both parents. If this is the case, make sure that you repeatedly tell your children that both parents will always love them and that you will always be a family. The difference will be that there will be two households.
Address any concerns they may have, such as the need to maintain a relationship with both parents. Be sure that your children understand their relationship with both parents is forever and that they will never be abandoned. Explain that a divorce does not end your child’s relationship with either parent. The marriage may end, however, the parent-child relationship will continue. Generally, for young children (3-5), short, clear explanations are best. For older kids, you can explain a bit more but do not over explain. Remember they do not have to understand everything all at once. Their understanding of your divorce will evolve as they get older and will change with their age.
Another important message for kids is that in no way is the divorce their fault, nor are they able to keep you and your spouse together. When the idea of parents separating is still new to your child, reinforce to them that you will make every effort to keep things stable for them. At the same time, let them know about upcoming changes. Remember children (especially ages 5 through 12) will ask the same questions repeatedly. This is normal; it’s their way of gaining a sense of security and reassurance about the future. It is important to keep your answers simple and consistent.
Of course, when one parent is being questioned apart from the other, that parent should reinforce that the separation/divorce is taking place because of differences between the parents. It’s extremely important that you conduct such conversations without making any damaging or disparaging remarks about the other parent. Children adjust more easily when their parents show a healthy sense of respect for the other parent, despite difficult circumstances.
Co-parenting responsibilities apply to all parents, whether they’re married or not. The extent that parents can effectively co-parent their children greatly determines how children will adjust to the transitions associated with a separation or divorce. Parents who have primary residential custody usually deal with more day-to-day issues concerning their children’s welfare.
Generally speaking, other major-life decisions, like those concerning religion, discipline, finances, morality, recreation, physical health, education and emergencies should be discussed and made jointly (unless you and your co-parent do not share legal custody). Remember that married parents often have differing ideas about all or some of these issues. This is to be expected. There is no reason to assume that divorced parents should always agree on them either. What’s important is how you deal with differences, not that they exist. It’s better for parents to agree to disagree and practice compromising, than to argue and fight endlessly for their own way. This, however, is often easier said than done.
Choosing your battles is the first step. For example, if there are problems with school-related issues like homework or punctuality, discuss these with the other parent. However, foregoing an all-out fight about the other parent’s choice of clothing or snack foods for your child might be a good idea. Once some of the emotionality of the divorce begins to clear, these topics can be revisited. Parents (especially those in the early stages of separation and divorce) should give one another some room to parent. In addition, look for opportunities to praise each other’s parenting abilities. This kind of well-chosen reinforcement can be very effective in fostering the correct co-parenting atmosphere. Most all parents have some redeeming qualities when it comes to their kids.
Parents who chose their battles and cooperate when there are differences are more likely to make healthy decisions for their children. In fact, nurturing an overall spirit of cooperation is more important than parents agreeing on any one particular issue. Also, parents who acknowledge and effectively deal with their own difficult feelings about the divorce usually have an easier time moving on. On the other hand, recurrent arguments between parents make life difficult for children and parents alike. When parents fight for their own agenda and neglect creating a peaceful environment, their children may develop bitter feelings and have difficulties later in life with their own intimate relationships. Remembering to relate maturely and with a healthy sense of respect for the other parent (even in the face of great differences and in some cases bad feelings) is the challenge for every divorcing parent. Fostering such an environment teaches children much about love, life, change, and family relationships.
Divorce brings about many changes in the lives of both parents and children. One change for children may be in their immediate support network. This might mean a loss of friendships and school ties if the divorce requires moving. It might also include changing relationships with extended family members after the divorce. To minimize stress on your children and ultimately yourself, try keeping your lifestyle close to what it was prior to the divorce.
If possible, keep friends, family, school, and other community support systems stable. When changes are necessary, make sure you give your children ample notice about them. The more comfortable parents are with such changes, the more comfortable their children will be.
In the days just after the divorce becomes final, there is usually is an adjustment period that can last for several weeks and oftentimes several months. During this time, people are adjusting to new routines, schedules, and living situations. It may take time for life to seem normal again. But don’t worry, eventually it will. Remember that children of different ages (and even in the same family) will adapt differently. Some kids are open about their feelings and the associated changes they experience. Others will be less vocal. Make room for whatever your children are experiencing. It is a mistake to believe kids must talk about their feelings.
Checklist for a stable home environment:
• Spend time with each child individually each day.
• Be nurturing, supportive, and available.
• Create routines and schedules.
• Provide clear rules and limits and use consistent discipline.
• Settle custody as quickly and as amicably as you can; try mediation if you cannot agree.
• Develop a firm parenting schedule that provides frequent and regular contact with the nonresident parent.
• Avoid too frequent changeovers between homes if custody is joint.
• End parental conflict, at least within the child’s earshot.
• Support children’s relationships with their other parent and that parent’s extended family.
• Do not burden children with adult responsibilities.
• Do not rely on children to be your confidants or companions.
• Seek out other sources of social support for your children.
• Read books about adjusting to the divorce process.
How Do I Deal With A Difficult Co-Parent?
Dealing with a parent who will not cooperate or negotiate under any circumstances is extremely frustrating. It can also make it difficult for you to make good decisions. It is all too easy to sink to the uncooperative parent’s level and make choices that will not be in your children’s best interest. For example, if one parent is communicating adult issues through a child, it can cause you to do the same. You must resist the urge to do this. Making correct choices for your children must be your focus. Oftentimes parents must wait years for the payoff, but it will be worth it.
Recall that parents who are unwilling to cooperate on any level usually have unresolved anger, grief, sadness, or all of the above. One parent’s unresolved feelings can create an emotional atmosphere that prevents both parents from remaining child focused. Do not stoop to that level. This includes engaging in historical arguments that are better left in the past. Leave the issues of your marriage in the past and resist playing out these never-ending conversations that just leave everyone frustrated, angry and tired. You will no doubt feel a pull to engage in these conversations, but they are dead-ends to cooperative parenting. Simply refuse to engage in such conversations and continually stress that you are interested in communicating about what’s currently impacting your child’s life. Doing this consistently may help, in that at least you (and your children) do not have to be exposed to these dead-end conversations.
If you are stuck dealing with a difficult parent, especially when there is a pending court case, it is a good idea keep good records of all your interactions with them. Keep track if they are keeping their commitments to any original agreements regarding custody, visitation, keeping appointments, and providing consistent positive messages to the children. If you are faced with a parent who refuses to keep to the agreed-upon custody schedule, or is putting your children at serious physical or emotional risk, then consulting with legal counsel and/or child protective agencies may be necessary.
A well-thought-out parenting plan is an important tool for ensuring the health and wellbeing of your children. A good parenting plan will outline how you will perform co-parenting responsibilities. It also details how you will handle and divide daily activities and caring for your kids. The parenting plan is a living document that must evolve with the needs of your growing children. Therefore, you do not have to include every potential situation you may encounter in the parenting plan. However, it must be revisited regularly to make sure it meets the needs of your family.
Keys To Successful Co-Parenting:
1. How you feel about your ex is less important than how you act toward him/her. Putting aside your negative feelings is definitely in the best interest of your child.
2. Respect your need for privacy and the other parent’s too. The only information that needs to be shared between co-parents is that pertaining to the children.
3. Each parent’s time with the child is sacred. Don’t make or change plans for the time your child is scheduled to spend with your ex. Honor the pre-arranged schedule.
4. Each parent has the right to develop his/her own parenting styles. As long as no harm is being done, let your ex-spouse relate to your child as he/she sees fit.
5. Acknowledge what your ex-spouse has to offer your child. Remember the qualities that first attracted you. Those qualities still exist and are available to your child.
6. Expect to feel awkward and uncomfortable about this new way of relating. But keep affirming your commitment to the new relationship and eventually your ex will begin to play by the same rules.
Utah Divorce Attorneys
Divorce can be a difficult experience and even more challenging when children are involved. Remember to take things day by day and always keep your children’s health and well-being in mind. Ascent Law Firm divorce attorneys have helped families successfully navigate the divorce process for years. If you need help with matters relating to divorce, child support, child custody, or any other family law matter, we welcome you to contact our firm for a free consultation. We can discuss your situation and explain the many ways we can help.
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