Children get used to the status quo at home. Even when it’s fraught or unpleasant, it becomes their normal, with them sometimes only appreciating how different other people’s lives are if they visit the homes of friends or other family members.
That’s not to say they don’t notice what’s going on. They’re often more aware of undertones and tension than their parents realise, no matter how much they try to conceal it in an attempt to minimise the distress.
Children often get caught in the fallout from their parent’s divorce. However sensitively it’s handled there often are fairly significant changes to be dealt with both emotionally and practically. Even adult children can find it hard to reconcile to their parents divorcing. It can shake their view of the world as well as their sense of stability and ability to trust.
Sometimes children may even feel responsible that they’re in some way to blame for their parents problems, wondering if they contributed to the domestic tensions and issues at home. They may feel that they’re not good, pretty, clever enough, that they should have made more effort to help at home, done their homework more willingly, been a better son or daughter.
It’s important to remember that a child’s relationship with their parents is very different to their parent’s relationship. Young children especially, don’t need to be too acquainted with the details of their parent’s break-up, agonise over what was said or done, or feel required to take sides. Doing this places an unfair burden on a young person who’s already having to come to terms and adapt to a new life, new domestic arrangements and maybe a new school, with the associated ramifications.
So, how do we find a positive way to co-parent during and after our divorce?
– Tell the children together so that they can ask questions and feel reassured that things are being handled in a civil way. Age appropriate details include revealing less about what caused the break-up and more about what their lives will be like; positive information about where they will live, that they can continue to see their friends and speak to both mum or dad.
– Include them in arrangements that affect them, so perhaps include them in discussions on decorating their new bedroom(s). That way they can feel part of the transition and able to settle more readily.
– Accept that some things will have to change, no matter how much you try to avoid it. Some friends will feel obligated to take sides, others will feel uneasy at your newly single status. Your disposable income will undoubtedly be reduced, so you may have to budget your expenditure, work and have less free time for socialising.
– Agree on the ground rules for discipline, so that there’s consistency and a united front in regards to raising the children. Things like bedtime, homework, treats, domestic routines like bathing, all benefit from being consistent. Rather than one be strict and the other the fun household, try to agree that both homes follow similar, familiar regimens for the children.
– Be sensitive to both your ex and the children should you acquire a new partner. Maybe keep it low key until you’re sure how serious the relationship is. There’s no need to flaunt a miscellany of ‘aunts’ or ‘uncles’ simply to prove how desirable you are! Try to be respectful, sensitive and considerate; everyone has enough change to contend with already!
– And, if your ex begins a new relationship, try to retain your dignity and avoid becoming angry or defensive. Remember, the best revenge is indifference, in an ‘all the best, good luck’ kind of way!
– Post-divorce avoid placing unreasonable expectations on each other. If one works long hours, lives a distance away or has a special event coming up, try to be flexible. If there’s a large disparity in their finances and one is struggling to make ends meet, try to avoid shaming them or have them feel inadequate.
– Let’s not forget that the bulk of the cost and effort of raising and supporting a child is largely unseen. The day-to-day heating, clothing, feeding, transporting and general overheads are often not thought about by the children, who will enjoy being impressed by expensive technology, kit, holidays and treats. Remember that whilst children will most likely take the gifts, treats and bribes, they’re often sufficiently worldly wise to appreciate that they’re being bought and will understand the true picture.
– Grandparents, if they’re able to remain neutral with the children, can offer support and be a valuable source of comfort, encouragement, advice and maybe even financial help. They may be available for childcare, perhaps offer a home for a time, a familiar face for the children to confide in, be reassured by. Children can sometimes have concerns about disclosing their worries to their parents, loathe to add to any distress that’s already being experienced. A kindly grandparent can offer invaluable additional comfort, guidance and security.
Aiming to co-parent in a positive way can start out as a minefield, having to navigate and negotiate a new way to treat the once special person you had your children with. A little patience, tolerance and resilience is often required, where each occasionally has to bite their tongue, avoid rising to stressful or provocative comments, situations and develop a thicker skin.
Maybe treat discussions with your ex in the same way you would handle a business meeting; staying calm, matter of fact, with a clear sense of what you’re aiming to achieve as your desired outcome. Work towards that goal, hopefully with a little good humour thrown into the mix. And remember, you loved each other once!
Susan Leigh, Counsellor & Hypnotherapist www.lifestyletherapy.net