Children are a primary concern for parents during the divorce process. This time can be confusing and overwhelming for everyone involved, so it is essential to make sure your kids feel safe and protected. Presented here is a quick list of six things that you can do as co-parents to ensure the mental and emotional wellbeing of your children.
1. Be present for your children
The process of divorce is complicated, and often requires a good deal of work and attention that you would otherwise spend on other aspects of your life. However, this time is also just as stressful for your children as it is for you. It is key for you, throughout the divorce process, to remain active and attentive with your children, as this will also be a trying time for them. Check in with them often, spend time with them, be cognizant of their emotional state. This is a formative time in their lives, no matter what age they are, and they will need your support and guidance.
2. Do not make promises you can’t keep
Making unkeepable promises as a parent, in any situation, is problematic. The time during a divorce is a particularly sensitive time for your children, and is definitely not the time to over-promise. For example, do not promise them that things will stay the same after the divorce, or that they will get to decide where the family has to live next. Making such promises can only lead to more stress and heartache for you and for them. Be as straightforward with them as possible, and set realistic expectations. This will mitigate most problems when talking about future plans, and expectations for the future.
3. Children need predictability and consistency.
Any change to the dynamics of a family can be unsettling for a child, from parents’ divorce, separation and new partners. With parents’ minds on other things, familiar and consistent family life and rules can slip through the cracks and cause confusion and unnecessary tension. Observing normal house rules is essential. It is also important as co-parents, to make sure rules across both houses are in line with one other: this will help you and your children to feel grounded and safe at either home.
4. Remember that children within the same family may react to the divorce differently
Divorcing parents with multiple children may find that children within the same family may view the divorce itself differently. One child may be more scared than the other regarding what the future holds, one child may try to keep the parents together, one child may act out in a negative way. It is critical that you, the parent, understand that there is no one-size-fits-all method of helping your children through this time. Diversify your strategies, understand and accept that you will make some mistakes, but your family will get through this together.
5. Allow children to love both parents
Resentment towards your ex-spouse may manifest within you, but do not project those feelings onto your children. At best, this practice is inappropriate, and at worse, destructive to your children’s’ relationship with your co-parent. You must allow your children to love both parents. Asking children to choose one parent to love over another parent causes children considerable distress. Typically, they do not want to reject a parent, but instead want to avoid the issue. They will want to love both parents, so let them.
6. Do not tell your children “everything.”
Telling children every little ugly detail about your divorce is estranging. Parents may argue that they just want to tell their children “the truth.” This practice can be destructive and painful. Parents will want to relay information in an age appropriate manner. Kids want to know how the divorce is going to affect them such as where they are going to move, or change schools, or whether they can still participate in their extracurricular activities. These are all acceptable and appropriate. However, any “gory” details regarding your divorce is not relevant to your children (unless their safety depends on it), so spare your children from them.