Are you thinking of a divorce, but too afraid to go through with it because of how it may affect your children? Yes, this decision is a big one and will definitely impact your children, but the reality of the situation is that by doing what is best for you, you’re doing what is best for your kids as well. You may be surprised at how insightful and resilient your kids actually are. Once you have come to terms with the fact that you are not ruining their lives, you can start taking steps to make this process much easier on them.
I was 23 when my parents filed for divorce after 24 years of marriage. I remember the feeling of complete disbelief and sadness, realizing that the life I had always known was about to come crashing down. I’ll be honest, my reaction to their announcement was completely immature, selfish and bratty, not fully comprehending the immense pain both of my parents had to be feeling to come to this decision. I had moved out at the age of 18, but my younger siblings, sister 22 and brother 12 were still living with our parents and were there to experience the divorce up close and personal.
Divorce affects children greatly, but maybe not just in the way you think it will. Because my siblings were living with our parents, they had been watching their marriage deteriorate and become unhealthy over the years, whereas I wasn’t there to see this. Neither of my siblings were shocked by the divorce, they were more relieved that the fighting would stop. Unfortunately, their divorce was really ugly, full of anger, resentment, and finger-pointing, which caused a lot of frustration and stress on the kids. As a child, my brother felt torn to choose a side and stuck in the middle of a very toxic situation, which caused him a lot of emotional turmoil.
It’s been 11 years since our parents divorced and I can tell you that we all turned out fine. There are still some emotional scars and pain associated with those terrible years, but for the most part, we have made it through and are successful, functioning adults. My parents made a LOT of mistakes in how they dealt with us during their divorce. Thankfully for you, this gives me some great insight as to what you should and should not do to help your children cope with your divorce. So, how can you get your children through this painful time in your lives with the least scars possible?
DO try to maintain a life that is as normal as possible. Your family is about to undergo a lot of change in the coming year. You may be separating into two different homes, one or both of which may be different from the one your children have grown up in. Make this transition smooth my allowing your children creative freedom to make a space of their own. Furthermore, continue the traditions, schedules, and rules you have always had. This may be difficult in some circumstances, but by continuing your regular movie and pizza night on Saturdays and bedtime routines you are giving your children a familiar foundation that will help them to feel more comfortable in this uncertain time.
DO NOT share your problems with your kids. As much as you want to believe that your children are your best friends, there has to be a line drawn in that friendship with how much you share. One of the most damaging things that you can do is talk to your children about the things that the other parent is doing to piss you off today, how angry you are with your ex or how they have hurt you in the past. Remember, your kids have unconditional love for both of you! By trash-talking your ex, all you are accomplishing is creating insecurity and resentment in your relationship with your kids and putting them in an uncomfortable place where they feel forced to choose a side. This backfired in my parent’s case and it will backfire for you as well. It is completely unfair to your children and emotionally damaging to them to place them in this position, so avoid talking badly about your ex in front of them at all costs!!!
DO talk to your children about how they are feeling. Just because your kids seem fine with the divorce, doesn’t mean that they are. Keep open communication with them. Let your children know that it is ok to feel angry, sad, or confused and give them a safe place to share those emotions with you. Don’t pressure them to talk if they don’t want to but make sure that they know you are there for them, will listen to them without becoming upset with them and that it is alright for them to feel how they feel.
DO NOT fight in front of the kids. This should be common sense, but your children do not want to see the two people they care most about calling each other names or yelling at each other. If you are starting to feel heated while talking with your ex, make sure that you give the kids an activity to do so you two can have your discussion in private or pause the conversation and discuss it at a time when they will not be present.
DO focus on healthy communication with your ex, no matter how angry you may be. One of the things my little brother had the most difficulty with during our parents divorce was feeling awkward with the lack of communication between our mom and dad. He went from feeling like we were a family, to seeing our parents not talk or if they did they said mean things or made jabs at each other. This was really hard on him as a little boy and it made life confusing. One example he gave of this was when he started to grow facial hair and wanted to shave. Instead of our parents talking about this, our mom bought him a razor and taught him to shave. Our dad was upset by this, because he felt that it could have been a bonding moment for he and my brother and our mom ruined that. Something as simple as buying a razor became a huge issue because of a lack of communication. Life is going to go on, whether you are ready for it or not. Milestones will happen, your children will grow up. It is going to be much better for them if they are able to see that their parents are able to work together, even if they no longer love each other as they used to.
DO NOT tell your children unnecessary details!!! I can’t emphasize this enough, your children do not and should not know EVERYTHING that has led to the divorce. If you or your partner were unfaithful, if your sex lives sucked, if something bad happened in your intimate relationship, vent to a friend about these things because your children do NOT need to know. You may think that open honesty is best and in most cases it is, but I can tell you from experience that knowing these things does nothing good for your children. As a matter of fact, these details can lead to insecurity, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment and hatred. There are things that my siblings and I rather not know about our parents relationship and I can guarantee that your children won’t want to know your intimate details either.
DO focus on creating a happy life together and make new memories. A lot of traditions and holidays are going to be different now that you and your ex are no longer married. Different doesn’t have to be sad or bad though. Keep the traditions that you can and add some new, fun traditions that can make this life your own. Decorate the Christmas tree or light the menorah, but if Dad isn’t there to sing that special song this year, maybe you can read a fun story, turn on music and have a holiday dance party, or make hot cocoa and watch Elf. If Sunday used to be family day, continue that and make it special without your spouse. Just because things have changed, doesn’t mean you can’t be happy or have fun with the changes.
DO NOT make your children feel guilty for wanting to spend time with the other parent. Your ex may have cheated, called you names, and stole money from your wallet to gamble, but all that your child SHOULD know is that your ex is their parent and they are loved. Your ex is still going to be important to your child, no matter what happened between the two of you, so come to terms with this fact. It can be difficult to not feel jealous of the activities they do together, the holidays they spend without you, and the time they have together, but do yourself and your children a favor, put a smile on your face and find something fun to occupy your time alone. You will only damage your relationship with your children if you make them feel bad for spending time with someone they are supposed to want to spend time with!
DO things that make you happy. When you feel ready to date again, do it! This is definitely going to be weird for your children at first, but they will get over it. When my Dad started seeing a new woman after he and my Mom divorced, none of us kids were too excited about it. We were never rude to her, but we didn’t accept her into our lives either. It took a few years of them dating and eventually getting married before we began to see what a wonderful person our Dad’s wife was. She is his perfect match and truly helped to transform our Dad into a better, happier man than any of us had ever known. Therefore, if you find someone you are crazy about, don’t be afraid to date and find happiness, even if your children are apprehensive. I will say that you should only introduce people to your children who you are very serious about, because seeing a constant stream of people coming and going through their life can be emotional and confusing. But don’t be afraid of hurting your children by finding happiness with someone else. If you are emotionally ready and completely over your ex then go ahead and move forward, the kids will be just fine.
DO NOT be in constant competition with your ex. Just because Daddy bought the kids new bikes, doesn’t mean you need to start draining your bank account to get them ipads. I can promise you that fancy gifts and expensive trips will not buy your children’s love. If you weren’t spoiling your kids by purchasing extravagant things before the divorce, don’t start doing it now. I know that you may think that buying things will make up for putting them through a divorce, but you aren’t teaching them anything of value by doing this. Unnecessarily driving yourself into debt hurts everyone. Once again, keep life as close to normal as possible. Your kids will love you regardless of gifts.
DO make sure that your children know that none of this is their fault. Just because your marriage has failed, does not mean that your children have to feel like failures too. Kids tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves during a time like this. Make sure that your kids know that there is nothing that they could have done differently that would change this outcome. The divorce is 100% happening because of you and your ex not being right for each other. This is incredibly important for your children to understand.
The decision to divorce is an extremely difficult one to make, but knowing that you and your children are going to make it through this and be happy again can ease your mind so that you are able to do what is best for all of you. By getting out of a toxic or unhealthy marriage you will benefit your children, not hinder them. It is much better for your children to grow up in two homes, rather than one unhappy home with parents who are merely together because they feel that they have to be. FInding your own happiness will help them to be happy and demonstrating healthy relationships will aid them in forming healthy relationships of their own in the future. Take it from a child of divorce and two-time divorcée, if you know that divorce is right for you then follow your intuition. As long as you make sure that your children are taken care of, loved, and living as normally as possible, then you can be assured that you are doing what is best for them.
Good luck and best wishes!