Having divorced parents can be the very best or one of the very worst things for your children. It’s not often that there’s an in-between. The good news is that you and your former spouse largely control what experience your children have.
The good parts of divorce for children.
Often when people are in a miserable marriage, the adult relationship impacts their ability to engage in parenting, healthy dynamics at home and creates a host of other issues. Once that marriage ends, and they are free from that adult relationship, the issues around parenting end. The parents can engage in new healthy and happy adult relationships or simply be happy on their own.
When this happens, a child gets to experience one and hopefully both of their parents happy, healthy, and able to focus their time and attention on them. Having two happy homes is better than one unhappy home. Having two sets of support systems and families can only be positive if children are encouraged to see it from this perspective and believe that their parents are still united in co-parenting.
The bad parts of divorce for children.
Parents have an obligation to encourage the parenting time of the other parent in a parenting plan. They don’t necessarily have an obligation to be supportive of that other parent-child relationship. Still, if they are putting their child’s best interests first, they should make that a priority. Failing to do so can result in intentionally or unintentionally alienating a child from their other parent.
A child may start to refuse to go to one parent’s home, have severe behavior and self-esteem issues in school and friend groups, become withdrawn, and overall struggle on a social-emotional level. This is one of the worst possible outcomes for a child with divorced parents.
Children are part of both parents. So, when one parent communicates either verbally to the child or often by actions and attitudes that they disapprove of the other parent, they are essentially telling the child that part of them is not OK, which makes a child withdraw from the other parent.
Additional challenges often arise when divorced, or separated parents are not co-parenting. Children often feel the need to develop an allegiance to the parent they spend the most time with, further creating division and unhappiness. A child should never be in this untenable position.
Ensuring a positive and healthy path for the kids post-divorce.
When a couple divorces, there is often obvious tension and hurt over what happened in the marriage. There may be fights during the divorce over assets, parenting time, and other issues. It can take time to heal. Even in the ugliest of situations, healing is possible but requires the commitment and work of both parents.
In some cases, coparent counseling after divorce, utilizing a parenting coordinator in a high conflict situation, or other third-party assistance can be helpful and appropriate to turn the focus on co-parenting in a healthy way. In other situations, parents are able to navigate these challenges with their own support systems and already good parent-focused communication.
Putting aside what may have happened during the marriage is a must. Focusing on being supportive and allowing each parent to further their individual relationships and have new traditions with their children is the best thing coparents can do for each other and their shared children.
Having regular meetings with your coparent, whether once a month or even just quarterly, should be a consideration. Doing this either over the phone or maybe over a cup of coffee at Starbucks can go a long way to developing a new relationship as coparents.
Talking about what your children are doing, their activities, how they are relating to family and friends, communication styles that work and don’t work, and everything that parents talk about should not cease because of a divorce.
This is not possible in domestic violence and certain other situations involving substance abuse, severe mental health, or high conflict impediments. In most other circumstances, this should be the goal and the ideal.
Putting your children ahead of whatever ugliness may have come to pass between the two of you is more important than anything else you will ever do post-divorce for them. Loving your children more than you hate your ex-spouse is necessary to make this happen.
It all starts with communication that likely needs to be better than what you had in your failed marriage. Your children’s happiness, coupled with your own internal peace, is well worth exploring some of these options in making it happen.