How to Keep Your Kids Out of the Divorce
Keep the children in your focus, and they can come out of a divorce unscathed.
Divorce is, unfortunately, a reality for some Texans. When there are precious kiddos involved, almost everyone can agree that the best thing is to keep the children out of it. But how do you do that?
First, recognize that continued, protracted litigation will impact the children. Even with the best intentions, the stress that comes with numerous courtroom battles inevitably trickles down to the children, so keep them in mind when you are considering strategy decisions with your attorney.
Next, there are several things that you can do to help minimize the impact on the children:
- If possible, plan with your spouse the best way to jointly tell the children, in a developmentally appropriate manner, that the divorce is happening. Seek professional guidance so that the message, and the manner that it is given, is as appropriate as possible under the circumstances.
- Get the children in with a competent counselor. Even in the best of divorces, there is going to be confusion, angst, and fear for most children. Making sure that the kids have a neutral and safe outlet to express those feelings is of paramount importance.
- Focus on the children’s needs, and be emotionally available to them. Even in the midst of considerable personal and perhaps financial strife, keep the kids, and their needs, the focus. This is not the time to be selfish.
- Concentrate on being the best co-parent you can be with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Except in the most egregious of circumstances, the chances are high that your spouse is going to be involved in the child-rearing with you. You are going to have to make decisions with this person, and continue to see this person, for the rest of your life. Recognize that early on in the divorce process and do what you can to try to cultivate a healthy co-parenting relationship. You do not have to like each other, but you do have to put those feelings aside and work together for the sake of your children. In other words, continue to act as a team when it comes to parenting the children.
- If your divorce is high conflict, consider requesting or agreeing to a parenting coordinator/facilitator. These mental health experts serve as a neutral person who meets with both parties and helps facilitate communication and co-parenting. Parenting coordination/facilitation often continues beyond the divorce and can serve as an ongoing resource when conflicts arise.
Lastly, there are several things that you should not do if you want to protect your children from the divorce process:
- Do not make the children take a side. Do not ask them what their wishes are. Do not try to “vie” for their love or preference with gifts and trips. Instead, provide an environment in your household where the child is free to love the other parent, and not feel guilty about it.
- Do not make the children be the messenger between you and your spouse. Buck up, and communicate directly with your spouse (preferably in writing if needed). Asking the child to deliver a message is indirectly putting them right in the middle. Instead, communicate with your spouse openly and often to avoid misunderstandings, which only harms the child.
- Do not discuss legal or financial issues with the children. Even if an older child comes to you with legitimate questions or concerns, or even accusations, take the higher road, and redirect them. Talk to the children’s counselor about the best way to respond when those questions are posed.
- Do not talk badly about your spouse, or your spouse’s family. Children inherently understand that they are a product of BOTH of their parents, and when you lose control and disparage the other parent, the child’s own self-esteem often takes a hit. Resist the urge to do this, even if it would be in retaliation to something that the child says to you. If you can, try to be positive when the child talks about the other parent, but, at the very least, do not be negative.
- Do not fight or argue in front of the children. Nothing can be more traumatic for a child than witnessing an ugly confrontation between the two people the child has most trusted for their short life. The child’s world is already being rocked, but having to bear witness to such an exchange can truly have lasting negative impacts. If you know you are about to have a difficult conversation with your spouse, plan for it, and get you or your child out of the house to do so. Remember, children hear everything. They listen at closed doors. Do everyone a favor, and eliminate all of those variables before you pick up the phone.
Do not let children become casualties of a messy divorce. Children are resilient creatures, and many can bounce back from these kinds of family difficulties with little, if any, long-term negative effects. In fact, children of divorce (when the parents follow guidance like that found here) are often better problem solvers and more equipped, earlier on, to deal with some of life’s challenges than the children whose families have not divorced. Keep the children in your focus, and they can come out of it unscathed.