Two out of every three marriages fail. And when there are kids involved, it’s not just the couple that suffers.
Children of divorce experience their own anger, insecurities and resentments about the failure of their parents’ marriage. If the divorced couple does not learn how to co-parent after the divorce, it can do serious damage to the kids.
“It’s very easy to get pregnant. It’s very hard to raise a healthy child,” said Susan Davis-Swanson, LCSW, executive director of The StepFamily Center in Beverly Hills, Calif. “It often takes being very mindful and assessing how you parent along the way.”
If you have gone through a divorce, there’s a good chance you don’t want to ever have to deal with your ex-spouse again. But, for the sake of the kids, you’ll have to – likely for the rest of your life.
If your divorce occurred when your kids are still living at home, it is important to find a way to interact with your ex-spouse so that you can effectively parent together. Here are some ways to do that:
Refrain from badmouthing your ex.
You may be angry at your ex-spouse for forgetting to pick up the kids from school or not remembering a birthday. And while you can go ahead and vent to your current spouse or talk about it with your ex, don’t ever badmouth your ex-spouse in front of your kids.
“You can try to make the other parent bad, but what you’re doing to your child is catastrophic,” Davis-Swanson said.
Your kids don’t need to know how you feel about your ex. That person is still their parent, and they will need to figure out who their parent is on their own. Hearing you say negative things may make them feel more defensive and protective of their other parent and put them in an uncomfortable position.
Don’t make your child feel guilty.
One of the worst things you can do is make your kids feel bad for wanting to spend time with their other parent. It’s natural for kids to want to spend time with either of their parents, or to go through periods of favoring one over another.
Instead of making your kids feel guilty and creating a loyalty bind over who they should be spending time with, encourage them to spend time with their other parent. Let them know that you’ll miss them while they’re gone, and that you appreciate the time you have with them when you’re together.
Cooperate with your ex.
No matter how you feel about each other, you and your ex-spouse need to be civil. Whether that means discussing things via email so the conversation doesn’t get heated or backing down sometimes to keep things more structured for your kids, do what needs to be done to cooperate with your ex-spouse to make the transition easier on your children.
“It’s an opportunity to find your higher self and be better for your children,” Davis-Swanson said.
That doesn’t mean you all have to go out for dinner or celebrate all of your child’s achievements together. What it does mean is finding a way to come to resolutions about issues that involve your children without making a scene or getting angry. Though this may have been what drove you to divorce your spouse in the first place, remember that you no longer have to deal with them on a regular basis, so be as cooperative as possible the times you do.
Cooperation with your ex requires both of you to be willing to make things easier, both on your children and yourselves. As you go through your divorce and even after, keep parenting your children as a top priority.
Talk about your kids.
The common denominator keeping you linked to your ex-spouse is your kids. That means it’s important to keep a dialogue going about your kids so that you are on the same page as far as school and discipline and that you both know what your kids are up to.
Make it a point to chat for a few minutes each time your children get picked up from each others’ homes. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversation, but touch base on anything you’ve noticed about your children’s behavior or attitude. Or, if necessary, schedule a weekly phone call just to talk about your kids so that neither of you feels out of touch when it comes to parenting your children.
Don’t let your kids manipulate the situation.
Unless you and your ex-spouse are on the same page, there’s a chance your kids will try to manipulate both of you to get what they want. That’s especially true if the two of you aren’t communicating and agreeing on how to parent your child.
Decide what to do if your children try to get something out of you that they know they can’t get from their other parent, or if they play on your guilt over the divorce by turning a situation in their favor. Remember that you are the adults, and you are in charge.
Accept new relationships.
One of the hardest things about divorce is remarriage, and letting other adults become “parents” to your children. But there’s a very good chance your ex is going to remarry, and you’re going to have to learn to accept that person into your children’s life.
That doesn’t mean you have to become friends with your ex’s new spouse, but it does mean respecting who that person is in your child’s life. Encourage your child to like and respect that person as well.
Parenting is never an easy task and divorce makes it even more difficult. Finding a way to communicate with your ex-spouse and work together to co-parent even after the divorce is finalized will be the best way to ensure that your children grow up feeling loved and supported by both parents.