No matter what, parents love their children, and children love their parents, so divorce inevitably becomes stressful for all family members. The way each of them overcomes stress depends primarily on the relationship between parents, their emotional maturity and mental stability, their ability to separate the roles of “spouses” and “parents,” and their willingness to cooperate after the divorce.
The marriage relationship between men and women may break down, but they are still parents. Now they face a new challenge: to remain good parents and build new relationships both between themselves and with the children. It is not only the parent who leaves the family home that faces tensions with their child. Misunderstanding of the reasons for divorce, the feeling of guilt, the feeling that it is necessary to take someone’s side in the conflict, and many other conflicting thoughts haunt the child after the divorce and can have a negative effect on trust in parents, as well as the friendly relationship with them.
Parents must minimize the negative effects of the divorce on their children.
In general, the consequences of the divorce for children can be of varying degrees of intensity, but in any case, the parents are in charge of helping the child adapt to new conditions to preserve the family, even after dissolving the marriage. It is a psychologically challenging task, but it is possible.
Here are some tips on how to minimize the adverse effects of divorce for children and maintain their close relationship with both parents.
Take Care Of Yourself
The brain of a child continues to develop throughout childhood. The areas responsible for willpower, regulation, and decision-making are far from where they will be as an adult. Therefore, children “connect” to the brain of their parents: they adapt their behavior to the parents’ behavior, learning how to experience stress, how to treat themselves and others, and how to react in general. If the mom and dad become psychologically unstable, then the child has nothing to “connect” to.
It can be said that here, the airplane rule “Oxygen mask – adults first and then children” works. Take care of your personal emotional and mental state first in order to be capable of helping your child. You will need skills in emotion regulation. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, ask for help and support. Seek a therapist or a clinical psychologist.
Take Care Of Your Child
Ask your child what is bothering them, and how they feel. Talk about this frustration. Avoid dismissing or downplaying your child’s feelings. Even if your child does not say anything, it does not mean that what is happening does not bother or hurt them. Explain to your child why mom and dad will no longer be together. Tell your child that they are not to blame for your breakup, that you will remain their parents forever and that you will always love them and take care of them. Depending on the age of your kid, think about how you can tell the true but understandable story of your separation.
Explain How Life Will Change Now
Tell your child whether you will move, whether they will have to transfer to a new school, how often they will be able to see the second parent, who is now living separately, and how they will maintain a relationship.
Work On A Relationship
In one study, it turned out that when divorced parents healthily interacted with each other and skillfully resolved conflicts, their children ended up feeling good. One could say that they almost did not suffer from their parents’ divorce. Refrain from an unfavorable comparison of the child to the other parent, such as “You’re crazy, just like your mother!” or “Chip off the old block!”
Do not turn your child against mom or dad. This can have the opposite effect, and it will be harder for you to stay close to your child as a result, especially if we’re talking about teens who have the right to choose which parent to live with.
Remember, what happened between the parents is the parents’ responsibility. Do not turn the child into a friend or a psychologist, for hours on end complaining about your partner’s shortcomings. Do not force your child to take sides. Your child unknowingly identifies themselves with their parents, and when you speak negatively about the second parent, you directly hurt your child’s self-esteem.
Cooperate With Your Former Spouse
Parents should be concerned not only with “how to cope with life following a divorce,” but also “how to build a life after divorce.” Breaking a marriage doesn’t mean ending a relationship – now, it has to transform. You are no longer spouses, but will always be parents.
Your experiences concerning the marriage should not affect your child. According to stories from Divorce Magazine and similar resources, a lot of women try to punish their former husbands using their child: they limit communication, they allow him to come only on the day of alimony, they convince their child that dad is bad or “you don’t have a dad anymore.” Sometimes, they even lie about ther child’s health. This behavior is absolutely wrong. Your son or daughter should not be a pawn on your battlefield.
No matter what kind of custody was awarded, now you need to provide discipline and stable participation in the child’s life. When everyone lived together, it was an easy task. Now it is essential to agree with the former partner about the visitation schedule, the possibility of meetings outside that plan, and how to solve educational and other child-related issues.
Sometimes, ex-spouses gloat if their former partners have difficulties and failures after the divorce. You must remember that the success and happiness of your former partner directly affects the emotional state of your child as well as their attitude to you. If you try to cause harm – emotional, financial, social – to your ex-spouse, you will do damage to your own child.
Help Your Child Keep In Touch With The Second Parent
When you forgive a former partner, you teach your child to forgive. When you help yourself cope with a divorce, you show your child that caring for yourself is important.
Once in a while, you’ll get cases where the second parent ceases to appear after leaving the family. He (usually ‘he’) no longer calls the child, does not come, forgets about birthdays. Try to help him see the damage of these actions, and go to a psychologist together. If nothing helps, help your child survive this loss without needing to blame your former spouse. Find out how your child feels, express your love and support and say that you are sorry.
Episodes like these spoil the relationship between the departed parent and the child. It is very painful for the latter party. To help build a better relationship between your child and the ex-spouse, tell your child about the good qualities of the former partner. It is crucial that the child hears good things about the parent who no longer lives with him.
Weekend Parent Rules
In general, all the above rules apply to both the custodial and non-custodial parent. Divorce can emotionally distance any parent from their child. But if in this situation, you are a parent who does not live with the child, then there are specific difficulties in actually staying close and maintaining constant contact. Divorce experts like OnlineDivorce.com or Mediate.com insist that the main task is to create a proper parental agreement. But sometimes, this turns to be harder than it seems.
How should I act if the former partner does not allow me to communicate with the child or allows it extremely rarely?
First of all, you need to restore the trust of the former spouse. To achieve this, you need to do the following things:
- Apologize for the past. Call or come and apologize. You should be prepared for the possibility that your ex won’t talk to you or answer messages (won’t answer for a long time, refuses to speak to you dozens of times). Remember that in this case, your aim is not to save face, but to ease tension and reconnect with the child. Be patient.
- Use the friendship formula: communicate, help, pay attention. Remember, 80-90% of the time you need to talk on practical topics. Make sure to be interested, to give reminders, and to clarify desires, issues, goals, and problems which are essential for the former spouse and the child.
A child should be treated as a person who has their own problems, interests, goals, and dreams. This may be associated with kindergarten or school, maybe to buy something for classes. Make sure your focus is outside while your locus of control is inside. Many people have a problem with this. Usually, the divorced parents’ attention gets stuck in the past – insults, dialogue, and marital quarrels.
Therefore, always pay attention to the child, but without trying to buy love and respect. Financial and practical help is good, but it is also important to help with information.
It often happens that, for example, the father begins to invest financially, and the former wife is in no hurry to get along with him. In this format of relationships, people get stuck for many years – one of the parents always remains at a distance. What does informational help mean? For example, text to the custodial parent: “I got the phone number of an art school. I’m not 100% certain about it, but friends say they liked it.” When you walk down the street, or are browsing the internet, and see some ads – for instance, a guitar teacher or a math tutor – take a picture and send it immediately to the second parent. You can write: “If you want, I’ll cover this.” Or: “I remember, we were looking for… How about this?” Send helpful information such as contacts of a dentist, massage therapist, psychologist, or something useful and exciting related to the interests and hobbies of the child.
The key point – do not respond to provocations! If your ex does not want to communicate and provokes a quarrel, e.g.: “I will block you. Do not call me,” your reaction should be: “OK, got it. I’m sorry.” Try to call back in a week. The next possible step would be something like: “I would like to give the child a package; I reckon he’ll like it (telephone, ball, school supplies, etc.).” As an option, send it by mail or leave it the front door. Even if the ex-spouse throws away your first gift (do not buy something too expensive), this is natural. Do not despair. He/she might refuse ten times, and on the 11th time, it will work.
P.S. Divorce is a painful process for the child, but it cannot destroy his life. Many children of divorce achieve success in life, stay in harmony with themselves and with others, build strong relationships, and retain motivation. A marriage where mom and dad do not love, or even hate each other and stay together only for the sake of children, is much more harmful. If you decide to get divorced and are not sure if you can handle it, you should contact a psychologist to work on your particular case.
Leslie Caro is a legal assistant, divorce mediation-trained specialist and certified divorce coach with 3 years of work experience. She specializes in providing custody and family mediation services and assistance with an uncontested dissolution of the marriage. Aimed to make a divorce proceeding as amicable and straightforward as possible, she focuses her practice on helping the parties to make their settlement agreements and parenting plans.