Divorce can be an emotionally taxing, anxiety-provoking event for an entire family. However, parents do have some control over the extent to which the separation has an impact on their children.
Psychologist Elizabeth Ellis, known for her book Divorce Wars, has identified the number one factor that determines the outcome of divorce for children: conflict. When reading through this blog, keep in mind that it is crucial for conflict to be handled without involving the children. Co-parents are encouraged to support each other as parents for the sake of the well-being of their children.
By following the tips below to the best of your ability, the distress of divorce can be substantially minimized for everyone involved.
Tips for Communicating with the Co-Parent
- Keep communication business-like. Stay focused on the mutual goal, which is your children’s well-being. When in disagreement, identify a desired outcome that can be agreed on.
- If you’re feeling emotional toward the co-parent and the communication is non-urgent, wait 24 hours before responding to limit potential conflict.
- Certain topics need to be agreed upon by both parents, including schedules, finances, healthcare, college, discipline rules, and any major decisions. However, when it comes to the more minor decisions, it’s best to leave the other parent to parent as they see best. You don’t have control over the other parent, and trying to take control will likely create conflict and more stress for your children.
- Consider utilizing a co-parenting app to make communication, scheduling, and finances more civil and streamlined. Co-parenting apps can especially come in handy when communication often turns into conflict, there’s frequent miscommunication, and/or children have become messengers between the parents. Even if you communicate well with your co-parent, co-parenting apps can help keep things organized.
Tips for Parenting Your Child/Children
- Avoid speaking badly about the co-parent. Even if you’re not venting in front of your children, information may still get back to them. They’re also likely to pick up on how you feel toward the other parent if you’re holding onto negative feelings. Do your best to leave them out of it. It’s not fair for children to feel torn between their parents.
- If you are dating someone new, leave them out of parenting-related concerns until a substantial amount of time has passed. It’s also not recommended to lie to your children about the fact that you’re dating. Referring to a new partner as a “friend” is something kids will see right through.
Tips for Helping Your Child/Children Cope
- Focus on creating a secure, loving environment at home. Though divorce is likely to bring on some symptoms of anxiety and/or depression for children, they’re adaptable and will be able to handle it. Kids don’t need a two-parent home, nor do they need to be protected from the reality of divorce. Kids need love.
- Psychologist Dr. Paul Jenkins, who has worked with children of divorce for many years, has created a video emphasizing two phrases that they often need to hear when their parents separate:
- “It’s not your fault” (It is NEVER the child’s fault!)
- “No one knows exactly why this happened” (There are only different perceptions)
Tips for Taking Care of Yourself
- It’s essential to take care of yourself through this transition for your own sake and your children’s. It’s not uncommon for children of divorce to feel like they have to take care of their parents post-divorce. Parent issues are not kid issues, and it’s important for them to be able to focus on being a kid. If the divorce is taking a toll on you or if you’re worried about the impact on your children, don’t hesitate to talk to a therapist!
- Use your children’s time with the other parent to connect back with yourself. It can be difficult to have this new time alone, so use the time to connect with old hobbies and people you’ve lost touch with, try new things, and find enjoyment in spending time with yourself.
Trust that things are going to be ok. This is not easy stuff, and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Forgive yourself for mistakes, and when in doubt, bring the focus back to your children.