Divorces are a challenge for all families. Even if the circumstances are amicable and both parents are supportive, there will be challenging circumstances surrounding the divorce for years to come.
As you and your co-parent now figure out how to raise your children, separately, here are some tips you might consider for supporting your family during (and after) this transition.
Use Supportive Language
This suggestion might sound like a self-help guru’s advice, but there is a lot of strength in all of us and sometimes we all need to be reminded of this. Your children are going through a tough transition; for them, it may be just as tough as the transition you have been going through. Remind them they have an ally in you, and that they will be able to make it through this challenging time because they are strong and you are there to support them.
Remind Your Children There Is Still Love in Their Life
Your divorce is not the end of the world, for you or for your children. In fact, it is not the end the love in their life either. We all have an amazing capacity to demonstrate love, even in the most challenging times. In fact, it’s during challenging times that love becomes an anchor for us. Remind your children that you love them. If appropriate, remind them that you both still love them.
You are getting/have gotten divorced. You will be amazed what your children have already picked up on about this. They are going to be wise to what’s going on, so be open. If they cannot trust in you to give them a fair response when they know what is happening, they may learn to distrust you in the future when they do not know what is happening.
Give Them Something To Expect
While you’re being honest with your children about the “new normal” in their lives, give them a headwind. Let them know what you know. How will their lives be impacted, what questions do they have? What can you tell them about how Christmas will work next year with two separate parents? If you can give them a heads-up to how things might/will be, they can start to get a handle on it.
Give Them Something To Count On
Much of what you know about the future could be ambiguous right now. That’s ok, be open about that! It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” But it’s also very important to lay out what you do know. What can you tell them about next week, next month, next year that is written in stone? Don’t overpromise here, but try to give your children something they can count on.
Don’t Blame Others Or Yourself
Divorces happen for many reasons, and it’s not usually just one thing, but a number of issues. It may very well be your spouse’s fault 110%, but how does it help your children for you to double-down on the blame game? Alternatively, perhaps you had some background into the divorce yourself? Again, it doesn’t help your children to see you blame yourself. They won’t see you as a martyr and they don’t need a martyr in their life right now, anyway. They need you as a loving parent.
Show Restraint and Be Courteous If Possible
Perhaps you don’t like your ex anymore? You might not be able to bear more than five minutes with them. However, if you can, consider showing restraint and respect for them in front of the children. The risk is that the children become pawns in a game they didn’t ask to be part of. Moreover, they learn to pick up on the distrust and disrespect shown for each other and emulate it at some point.
Listen To Them, A Lot!
When you get a chance, ask your children how they feel. What are they feeling, and why do they think they feel that way? Listen and ask open-ended questions (things that don’t lead to a yes-no answer). Get them talking and be honestly engaged with understanding how and why they are feeling the way they are. It’s likely you will hear they are hurt, confused, scared, nervous, loved, and supported – all in the same conversation.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
It’s ok to feel hurt, scared, angry, frustrated, and unloved. It’s not ok to deny someone the ability to express these feelings. Be there for your children, hear what they have to say. Acknowledge that from their view of the world, these feelings make sense and help them to see there’s a bigger world at the same time. As Mr Rogers once said, feelings are great because they are ours, but we can become the master of them too.
This is not a short phase in your life. For you and your children, this is the norm for the rest of your lives. Some things will be handled by a short talk, other challenges may take years to resolve. Be patient, Be Kind, Be Supportive.
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