This guest article from YourTango was written by Kelly P. Crossing.
We’ve all heard the same stories about divorce: the parent who does his best to badmouth his ex, the parent who tries to keep the kids away from the ex as some sort of punishment, the parent who manipulates child support payments. These things do happen and plenty of children are harmed because of these and other divorce-related mistakes.
On the other hand, many parents do divorce right. Lots of parents understand that divorce is terribly hard on their children. These parents try to minimize the trauma every step of the way.
Here are five divorce techniques parents get right…
Doing Right By Your Children When You Get a Divorce
1. Focus on your children.
Your main focus should be on the kids instead of the “stuff,” i.e. the money or your own feelings of anger, sadness or fear.
As much as divorce can be devastating for parents, it is often more so for kids. They may not show signs of trauma in ways the parents would expect, but it doesn’t mean they’re not being traumatized by the people in their lives.
For kids, everything they know and have come to rely on has now been called into question. And sometimes they don’t know which way is up. Parents who focus on the needs of their kids help them work through the confusion and fear that typically come with divorce.
2. Recognize the signs of emotional distress.
Most kids have difficulty discussing their feelings. So, when they are feeling upset, they often act out. This acting out can come in many forms from temper tantrums, to falling grades, to shutting down and isolating, to experimenting with alcohol, drugs and/or sexual promiscuity.
Parents often view divorce as a temporary upheaval or crisis that can be resolved once the divorce is complete and the logistical details have been settled. And for parents, this is often true. But kids view things differently.
There’s nothing temporary about divorce for kids and acting out can take place during, shortly after or long after the divorce has been finalized. Parents who recognize the signs of emotional distress and allow their children the freedom to express their frustration and work through it teach them how to cope with difficult circumstances.
3. Give the kids some control over their own lives.
Let’s face it, everybody wants more control over their own lives and kids are no exception.
While it is not a good idea for parents to allow their children to have 100% control over their lives, it is imperative — especially during or after a divorce — that kids have some control so that they don’t feel as if they are being tossed around in the vast storm of emotion and frustration of it all. Living arrangements are a key area of control for kids and, ironically, for their parents.
Parents often look at a joint custody arrangement as providing the children with two loving homes instead of one. Unfortunately, the children don’t often see it that way.
Rather than having two homes, children often perceive that they now have no home or at least no real home where they can feel totally comfortable. As a parent, imagine for a moment that you were the one who had to go back and forth between homes. How comfortable you would be?
Many parents nowadays try to resolve this difficult issue in more creative ways that may be better for their kids. They allow the kids to have more choices about where they’ll stay or spend the night and when. This seemingly small shift can make a significant positive difference in the way children perceive their environment during and after divorce.
4. Maintain a friendly (or at least civil) relationship with the ex.
As difficult as it may be in many situations for the parents to hide their hurt or hostility toward one another, the children are healthier when they do.
Many parents today understand this and do not badmouth the other parent in any way in front of the children. This teaches the children that even though people don’t always get along, they can still function and move through life in a healthy way. Divorce may be unavoidable, but teaching children how to navigate the aftermath is as important as teaching them to walk and talk.
5. Allow the kids to continue being kids.
In so many families of divorce, children ultimately take on more responsibility or roles that previously were handled by the parents or other adults. Whether it was becoming responsible for younger siblings because the parents now work more or even having to contribute to the family budget for older children, many parents now recognize that kids — even teenagers — are not adults and should not be taking on these kinds of adult responsibilities.
These families are finding other ways to allow their kids’ lives to remain as constant as possible. This is often accomplished through the support of other family members, friends or even local community or faith-based organizations. Regardless of where the additional help comes from, these parents understand that it was not the children who made the decision to divorce and it should not be the children who are further penalized for their parents’ decision.
We probably still have a long way to go when it comes to helping our kids get through divorce. But more and more parents these days “get it” and are doing the things necessary to ensure their children can work through the difficulty in healthy ways. This often requires creative thinking on the parents’ part and perhaps even some input from outside parties. But the payoff of healthier, more well–adjusted kids is huge.
For more information about how parents can help their children get through divorce, check out Divorce from the Kids’ Perspective. Kelly P. Crossing, LPC, MEd, MS is a counselor and owner of Link Learning Center, an online education provider to counselors, individuals, couples and families.
More divorce advice from YourTango Experts:
- 9 Love Lessons I Learned From My Divorce
- Is Divorce Becoming a Luxury?
- How Do I Know I’m Ready To Start Dating After A Divorce? [VIDEO]