As a divorce mediator, I help couples get to a better place as they journey through their divorce. This divorce processs is often wrought with turmoil, with too many decisions to count and challenges they are often unprepared for; even when divorcees are in the best of circumstances, rarely anything goes as planned. As they say, there’s predictability in unpredictability.
As a couple begins to unravel their marriage and all the intricacies inherent in divorce, they are concurrently trying to create a new family that is yet to be defined. There is enormous responsibility shouldered on the part of both parents to work through the many issues that need to be resolved in divorce. And not only do parents have the responsibility of making critical decisions regarding custody and shared time with both of them, they must also insure that despite all their own personal turbulence and emotions, their children’s healthy and well-being remains front and center.
Although doing that can be challenging, there are many things parents can absolutely do to make sure their children come first – even when it feels impossible.
1.) Take the high road. I know it seems enticing and ‘feel oh so good’ to talk negatively about your soon-to-be-ex – especially if you are in significant pain – but there is nothing good about that decision. Remember, there was a time that you loved this person and saw a long and wonderful future with this person. Try to recall those times. Remember that your children have 50% of her or his genetic makeup. When you put them down, you are doing the same thing to your child or children.
2.) Stay strong. Your children need it from you, and they will thank you in the end. Most children don’t have a voice yet are screaming inside to be kind to their other parent. They need you to show them that although things are changing – sometimes at rapid speed – you will be strong during this time and provide stability and safety for them.
3.) They need to see a reunited front by their parents. Even in your darkest moments, presenting a united front by saying, ‘we are and will always be a family, though it will be different’ is important to them. When you are visibly at odds with one another, they sense that there is no unity. They feel this. By presenting a united front and letting them know that, although you do not love one another like married people should, you have unconditional love for all of the children and that will never change.
4.) Remember that their world is crumbling apart too. Children are not privy – nor should they be – to all the intricacies of a divorce. They should be shielded from a lot of the information. However, despite not knowing these things, it is hugely important to keep in mind that their life is changing too. They need both of their parents to provide the space to talk and the safety they need to navigate their world.
5.) Being kind and cordial goes a long way, even though it might be the most difficult thing you have to do in the moment. A kind word or gesture goes a long way.
6.) Create a strong support system outside of your children. No matter how old your children are, they are still your children. Including them in conversations that are unwarranted and inappropriate puts them in a very challenging place. If you think they can handle adult conversations, think again. They cannot. Even if they could, that’s not their job. They are not responsible for your happiness. They are not there to make everything is going to be ok. That’s your job. Create a support system with friends, family, a therapist, a divorce group or whatever support you need outside of your children. I cannot stress this enough!
7.) How you interact with them and define your relationship with them will impact how they have relationships in the future. Parents often forget – though they shouldn’t – that behaviors speak volumes, even in the midst of divorce. Demonstrate a healthy relationship both with your children and with your ex, even in the midst of divorce – it will be beneficial for your children’s future relationships.
8.) Don’t put them in the middle. Sounds like a no brainer, right? You would be surprised how many parents continue to do just that. They ask their children questions about their other parent like ‘what is your mom doing?’ or ‘where is your father?’. Your children are not equipped – nor should they be – to answer such questions or manage the parent’s issues. Don’t ask your children to text the other parent or relay messages. Do it yourself! Children love both of their parents and want to have a relationship with both of you. Asking them questions or having them do your dirty work is not only inappropriate; it is unfair. You are putting them in a position to choose. Oftentimes I will say to parents, ‘would you like to be put in the middle between two people you care about all the time? I doubt it. How would you feel if someone did that to you?’ Probably not very good, I’d guess.
In writing this, I recognize that this may seem and feel like a tall order. And doing some of these things will no doubt prove very difficult for many people. Just keep in mind that these things are all important. In order to help your children get through the divorce and still feel safe and secure with both of their parents, these suggestions should be done.
This blog originally appeared on DivorceForce