TIP #1: Make the Children Your Priority
“As we go out into the world, we will face challenges and we’ll need both of you to help us through them. If we’re struggling, in need of help or you’re worried about us, we hope you will pick up the phone and let each other know. We get that this won’t be easy. At one time you loved each other enough to become parents. Please do your best to see the good in one another instead of always expecting the worst.”
A quote from an adult child of divorce
Research shows that helping others is a great way to get through a loss or stressful event. Transitions and change are normal. Divorce isn’t necessarily a life skill but going through a transition that comes with stress (like in a divorce) is. Shift the focus and your energy onto them.
Talking about the divorce is important, especially with your children.
This means less or no talk about why the divorce happened and focusing more on the struggles each child is going through at that moment. Less drama and more focus on kids are good modeling and leads to helping the family move forward in a healthy way.
What the children come to the parent for help with may not really be what they want or need. It may be more about seeking parental support and making sure they won’t be abandoned. They may need help telling their story to others, problem solving, assistance with time management or scheduling changes, or handling missing a family member.
To see a quick outline of developmental tasks for children by age group, read Does Divorce Inevitably Damage Children? by Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. on the Huffington Post.
TIP #2: Create a Support System for Your Kids
One of the most important developmental tasks for children is social development. Part of this process is explaining what is happening and how to maneuver through relationships. The process of divorce can impact family members in a variety of ways. It can include the break-up of a family system, the loss of seeing or living with one parent regularly, or dealing with the stigma sometimes associated with divorce.
Providing support for children going through divorce can help them with the adjustment and changes happening. Others can play a vital role in needed support, such as family members, family friends, a church community, theirs peers or even a therapist. Not only do others provide a feeling of security and normalcy, they can also provide unconditional love and support.
About therapy: There doesn’t need to anything wrong with a child for them to be in therapy. Whether it’s a counselor at school or a therapist at a clinic or in private practice, therapy can provide an additional layer of support for family members.
TIP#3: Stick to Consistency and Routine as Much as Possible
This can include morning routines, school schedules, sports, social outings, attending church, family meals, holidays, going on vacations etc. Routines create a feeling of normalcy and familiarity for everyone. After school activities and hobbies help children gain their own sense of autonomy in the world and solidify their identity. Help the children develop their own hobbies and interests, to do at your home and at the other parent’s home.
TIP #4: Don’t Speak Badly or Gossip About the Other Parent
When we are hurting, it’s easy for us as adults to fire back with hurtful comments or actions. Children hear what parents are saying on the phone or to the adult in the other room. They often tune into what their parents are feeling, even if they don’t come right out and say it.
Model healthy communication and boundaries. Avoid blaming and negative talk about the other parent. Save personal feelings and negative thoughts for friends, therapist or a journal. If you find you can’t stop talking about it, try counseling. It’s a safe place to express yourself that won’t due unnecessary damage.
Communicate directly with your ex partner in a healthy way, not through the children or through others (unless mandated by the court). State your needs to them in a clear honest way. Use “I” statements. Try phrasing your needs in different ways, literally using different words. Keep accusations and blaming out of it, instead replace with compliments. Research shows that starting a conversation with a compliment or positive comment increases receptiveness in the other person. They will be more likely to hear what you are saying. If or when the communication starts to get heated, take a break. Revisit it when you are both calm and level headed. If things can’t get resolved, try mediation or communicating through a counselor.
References and Resources:
The 18 Best Things You Can Do For Your Kids After Divorce by Brittany Wong on HuffingtonPost.com
How to Keep Yourself From Yelling at Kids Even When You are Hopping Mad by Sumitha Bhandarkar on AFineParent.com.
Four Things to Keep Stable with Children of Divorced Parents by Shannon Philpott on Mom.me.
Establish Post-Divorce Traditions on KeepYourChildSafe.org.
Helping children adjust to two homes after separation or divorce on RaisingChildren.net.au.
Why routines are so important for children of divorce from GabriellaDavis.com.
The importance of safe, stable and nurturing environments for young children by Dr. Rachel Wood on TheOlympian.com.
8 Things Adult Children of Divorce Desperately Want You to Know by Christina McGhee on DivorceAndChildren.com.
Find information about ending a marriage or registered domestic partnership see the Divorce or Separation resources page on the California Courts website.
Divorce Etiquette 101: What to Say on WeVorce.com.
Tips on Communicating With Your Spouse During a Divorce by Joseph Pandolfi, Retired Judge on Lawyers.com
Find resources on Coping in Divorce Support on About.com.
4 Tips for Effective Communication During Divorce from OutofCourtSolutions.com.
5 Ways for Better Communication During a Divorce by Nicholas Baker on FamilyLawRights.net.