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What Every Parent Needs to Do When Divorcing

Divorce is one of the most stressful events anyone can ever experience. The pain of going through it can be overwhelming. The task of getting control of emotions becomes a daily challenge. You and your-soon-to-be-ex find yourselves criticizing each other in front of the kids, sending nasty texts back and forth, and bad mouthing each other with the kids around. It feels like being civil is almost impossible.

But what is all this is doing to the kids?

Unfortunately, many kids will experience divorce as traumatic in part due to the parents’ fighting, blaming each other, while the kids are in the middle. This can go on for months, maybe even years. When children see their parents portraying each other as monsters, they experience the kind of emotional trauma that lasts a lifetime.

So how can you keep from making the situation worse for them? Though nothing will completely ease the pain of the divorce, there are a few ways that divorcing parents can help their kids heal.

This blog shows you how to navigate divorce without hurting your kids. 

Divorce from the Kids’ Perspective

Divorce is a major life-changing event. No matter how hard you try to ease the pain, splitting up will have a major impact on your family. A period of depression, grief and feeling disoriented becomes the new normal. The kids will naturally have their own sadness that needs to be acknowledged.

Being emotionally available for the kids can be challenging when you’re trying to keep your head above water in a divorce. It’s important to remember what your kids will be facing too: their entire lives will change, including their living situation. They may have to switch schools and make new friends. It can feel like their entire lives are completely changing.

What you can do: Make time to listen and validate their feelings. Avoid giving direct advice or trying to get them to look at the bright side. By honoring their pain, you are teaching them how to cope in a healthy way.

What Every Parent Fears

Every parent worries about what divorce will do to their kids. This fear may have kept parents in the relationship longer than they wanted to be.

How your kids handle the divorce will affect their emotional health. Your actions or lack of actions can make a huge impact on your kids. Research shows that the most important factor in preserving your child’s emotional well-being is whether you and your ex can be civil towards each other.

Feeling angry and hurt is an important part of the healing process but expressing these feelings in front of the kids these needs to be minimized. This keeps them from being caught in the middle.

What you can do: Find healthy outlets to express frustration like vigorous exercise and journal writing. Keep the journal in a private place so the kids can’t access it. Encourage your kids to keep one for their private thoughts too.

Why It Starts with You

Being civil can start today. You might be saying to yourself, “That’s not possible. You don’t know my ex!” But unless there is physical or mental abuse, it is possible. You need to make being light and polite a priority for your sanity and helping your kids cope.

But, how can you be civil to someone you are anxious to get away from? Being polite does require patience, but it’s going to be worth it. You’ll be less stressed in the long run, and your kids will feel more secure. Fueling the anger creates a negative, stressful energy and hopelessness that doesn’t promote healing.

What you can do: Practice bringing your attention back to the present moment. Keep focused on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.

How to Make the Shift

Shifting the dynamics in a broken relationship requires one person to give up the fight. You’re the lucky winner since you are here reading this article. How you behave can start a fresh chapter in the divorce. After all: it takes two people to fight a war. So stop fighting.

Also, realize that stopping the blame game will take effort and patience. Make sure you have enough emotional support in the coming months ahead. Self-care needs to be a priority and staying in close contact with friends and family will make the process more bearable.

Healing is a delicate balance of normalizing the pain while avoiding a character assassination of the other parent. Keeping your integrity means rising above your desire for revenge. Your kids will be grateful and learn that it’s not a healthy option.

What you can do: If you need more support, consider Divorececare.org or find a local support group that supports divorce recovery. Many have groups for kids too.

Ending the War Between You and Your Ex

So how do you begin to shift the tension? First, bring back your manners and aim for being light and polite. Often manners disappear when a relationship starts to fail. Do you still say “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome”?

My own personal experience taught me this during the first year of my divorce. I picked up my iPhone, knowing it was my ex, and answered with a “What?” I was mortified. It wasn’t okay to be rude just because the marriage failed.

Next, be mindful of negative self-talk. These are your own private thoughts. Obsessing over how your ex hurt you keeps you living in the problem. The longer your thoughts stay negative, the more likely you will destroy any chance of a peaceful connection. Instead focus your energy on discovering how you contributed to the relationship so you can grow and learn your own valuable lessons.

What you can do: If you’re having a particularly difficult time, try writing down your thoughts about your ex for five minutes. Then go back and tell the same story from your ex’s point of view. This can shift your perspective while building empathy. The primary goal is coming to peace with the past so you can forge a new beginning.

Turning the Pain into Valuable Lessons

Remember: it’s the relationship between the parents after the divorce that predicts a child’s ability to adjust afterwards. The loss of the family unit is hard enough, but parents who can’t be in the same room without insults is heartbreaking.

There is no easy way to divorce. The first year especially can be agonizing. But what your kids experience during this time will shape their expectations of future relationships. This can be a valuable life lesson for them to learn: how to let go of a partnership.

You will need to go through the grieving process intensely especially that first year. Set the example by showing them how to let go with dignity and respect. This creates a template for all of their future relationships. They can learn that it’s okay to grieve, without hurting another person. 

What you can do: Be gentle with yourself. Finding the gifts in the lessons can build hope. Use these tips to help you heal as a family.

My Story

This is a biased post, I’ll admit, and one close to my heart. I am divorced, and happily remarried with one child and I know firsthand the importance of creating a positive connection with my ex-spouse. I allowed myself time to make mistakes and heal, but I wanted to give my son the second best option: an amicable connection for us all.

Now we are all a happy, if broken, family unit. Once I was able to grieve the marriage, we could preserve the friendship. Of course, every situation is different. But unless there are issues of abuse, you can take steps to move forward in a positive manner.

Final Thoughts

The importance of developing a non-confrontational relationship is the key to healing as a family afterwards. Honoring your kids’ process of grief takes a willingness to put your own pain aside, so you can be there for them. You can’t do that unless you have enough consistent emotional support yourself from family and friends. Everyone needs extra support and gentleness right now.

You can be pleasant. You can be kind and show empathy (even if your ex doesn’t). You can model how your kids see this aspect of relationships, loss and life’s disappointments. Find some empathy for the person you fell in love with years ago. Teaching that empathy to your kids may be the most important life lesson you ever teach them.

What Every Parent Needs to Do When Divorcing

Michelle Farris, LMFT

Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in helping people with codependency and anger management. She shows others how to be more authentic in relationships by setting healthy boundaries and improving self-care. In her early twenties, she fell in love with the process of personal growth. She is a therapist who “walks her talk” and loves supporting others towards positive change. She writes a blog called Relationship Rehab that offers helpful tools to create healthy and happy relationships. Michelle also offers online classes on anger and codependency for additional support. Signup for her FREE 5 day email course on anger.

APA Reference
Farris, M. (2018). What Every Parent Needs to Do When Divorcing. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 16, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-every-parent-needs-to-do-when-divorcing/

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Oct 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Oct 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.