We’re Getting A Divorce: What About The Kids?
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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If you and your spouse are thinking about getting a divorce – or if you already have – you may have realized that this split between you two has a tremendous effect on your children. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t get a divorce – maybe it makes sense. But it does mean you have to take some time to think about your children and how this will play out for them.
First, consider these “don’ts.”
Don’t think they don’t care. Even babies are aware that someone important is missing when grownups go their separate ways. Both parents need to stay involved in children’s lives, even in an infant’s life. And, if your babies are long grown up, remember that even adult children will be upset by your divorce. Yes, they are better able to understand the conflicts and, yes, they aren’t so dependent on you as they were when they were little. But divorce tears the family fabric. It matters to everyone in the family, at every age.
Don’t think they’ll agree with you. Children necessarily are loyal to BOTH parents – after all, they share DNA from you and their other parent and they’ve grown up learning to respect and appreciate both of you. Even if you think you are the injured party in the marital fracas and even if you think your children will naturally be on your side, don’t count on it. And, what’s more, don’t try to enforce it. Telling your kids all the nasty things your ex did in hopes of winning children’s support is unfair to them and unkind.
Don’t think they’ll get over it. They won’t. Divorce is a trauma and its effects will linger like the effects of a car wreck. Yes, life goes on and things will assume a new normalcy. But the fact of the divorce can never go away and that means the impact of the divorce can’t go away either.
Divorce is a serious matter and it will affect you and your children now and into the future. Sometimes divorce makes sense and is the only way forward for you and for your partner. Sometimes a divorce clears the path for progress and is better for the children than stayinmediationg together would have been. It’s impossible to see all ends, but you can at least help to make the best of a bad situation for your kids.
Opt for divorce mediation instead of a trial. Some attorneys enjoy the conflict of a juicy divorce but that doesn’t mean you have to provide their entertainment. Seek out an attorney who is committed to mediation and who does everything she can to keep you and your family out of the courtroom. You and your ex want to make the decisions – you don’t want some judge to make them. The way to stay in control of what happens is to use mediation, not litigation.
Be nice to your ex even if he or she isn’t nice to you. Divorce mediation will help you and your ex stay nice, because it dampens the adversarial conversation in favor of constructive problem-solving. But even if your ex insists on a trial and is as nasty as can be, do everything you can to be sweet. Your children are watching how you treat their other parent. What they think of you depends on how well you behave.
Respect your children’s connection to your ex and do nothing to get in the way. Your children love and need their other parent. It’s important that these feelings are honored and that kids are afforded ample opportunities to express these feelings. When a parent makes visits and vacations with the other parent difficult or makes snide remarks about the other parent, the child is caught in an impossible situation. For the sake of your kids, do nothing to ruin their relationship with their mom or dad.
Realize that your ex has a perfect right to attend your children’s events, to volunteer at their school, to be present at their graduations and birthdays and weddings. For better or worse, your former spouse is in your life for life. You cannot sweep this person under the rug, as if he or she never existed. Your ex is the parent of your children, just as you are, and your ex has as much right to be included in your children’s events as you do. So put on your sweetest smile, include your former love in whatever is going on, and be a grownup about it all. Being controlling and unpleasant only confirms to your ex that it was smart to dump you. Make your ex realize what a gem you are instead.
Government statistics say that about half of children under the age of 18 have experienced their parents’ separation or divorce. If this includes your kids, then they have plenty of company. But being common doesn’t make divorce normal. It will have an impact.
Do all you can to soften the blow.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, is available in bookstores now.