For people who are childless, divorce is relatively straightforward; once they are divorced, they never have to see each other again. But when people have children, they are bound together for life in some ways, regardless of their marital status. They also have to worry about the third parties to the separation and divorce, their children. It is critical to focus on what is best for the children. In addition, if you are ever in litigation with your ex-spouse, having a record of having acted in the best interest of your children will serve you well).
HelpGuide has a great guide on helping children of any age cope with separation and divorce. The Mayo Clinic also has a good discussion of this topic. Parents can help their children by providing stability and reassurance to the children. Remember, that your children’s needs come first, and they need to feel loved by both their parents, and they usually want both parents to remain an important part of their life. They also need to know that the separation or divorce was a grown-up decision that had nothing to do with them.
You may not be married anymore, but you are parenting partners for life
You need to take the long view. If your children are young, you and your spouse, or a court, will get to decide how much time each parent has with the child. However, once they are adults, they will get to decide how much, if any, time they spend with their parents. If you nurture a warm loving relationship with your children, you may be invited to share their lives.
Also, no matter how bitter and unhappy you and your ex are now, you will likely come together for family events for the rest of your lives. If your children are young, there will be school events and extracurricular events where both parents are invited. As children get older, there will be graduations, and possibly weddings and grandchildren. Will you be together for the children’s birthdays or will you celebrate them separately? Will you alternate Christmas and Thanksgiving?
Because parental conflict can be traumatic for children, it is best if you and your spouse can form a partnership, working together for the best interest of the school. Otherwise, your children may learn to manipulate you and play one parent against the other. You will need to bite your tongue and not say anything derogatory about your ex to your child; your relationship with your ex is your decision, but your children love both parents and need both parents in their lives (unless one parent has been abusive either to you or to the children – that’s a different situation).
If tensions are high with your ex, see if you can arrange drop-offs and pick-ups so that you do not need to see each other. Today, you can handle arrangements with a Google calendar and communicate by texting or email, reducing the opportunities for person contact. Do not confide problems with your ex to your children. You will need to develop other friends that you can confide in.
Telling children about the news about the big change
You and your ex need to think carefully about how you will explain this change in your lives. You should do the best you can to be on the same page, and anticipate what will be of most concern for your children. They will want to know where they will live and when they will see both parents. If they are teens, they will want to spend time with their friends as well as with their parents. Ideally, you would both sit down together with the children and explain what will happen.
- Tell them the truth, but remember you don’t have to tell them everything. Be sure you let them know that while parents can fall out of love with each other, they can never stop loving their children.
- Tell them you love them.
- Share information about the logistics of their new life. Will they stay in their current home and school? Will then need to move? Will their parents share custody? When will they see each parent? What if they want to spend time with their friends?
Help your children grieve
For many children, a separation or a divorce is traumatic, a major change in their lives imposed by their parents. You can help by giving your children choices, and by helping them grieve. Be sure to listen to them and encourage them to express their feelings. And acknowledge their feelings rather than dismiss them.
Stay connected to your children
Being the noncustodial parent can be painful, but it is important to stay in touch with your children. Technology has made it so much easier to stay in touch; even if you live far away, you can Skype regularly and call. Sometimes its useful for even young children to have their own telephone, so parents can contact them directly.