Raising kids after divorce can be among the most difficult things any parent goes through. Even under the best of circumstances, parenting during and after a divorce can be stressful - for adults and kids alike. While there are plenty of horror stories about families irrevocably torn apart by divorce, the truth is that the negative aspects of child rearing during divorce can be significantly mitigated. Although there is no perfect way to make divorce easier for children, there are some general parenting principles that apply to most, if not all, divorcing families.
Here are some tips for how to parent after a divorce and how to support kids during the delicate transition.
Communicate with Your Child Through the divorce process, kids need to know that both parents will still be there for them. So, when telling kids about a pending separation, try and break the news as a united front to prevent children from feeling that they must take sides. Reassure your child by creating a safe environment for the discussion, and a safe way to express their feelings. Keep in mind that divorce is a long-term process for children, so be prepared to have several future talks.
Support Your Child’s Relationship with the Other Parent Perhaps the toughest challenge you will face when co-parenting during a divorce is supporting your child’s relationship with the other parent. Experiencing anger, resentment and hurt are all understandable while going through a divorce, but these feelings must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Avoid putting the children in the middle of any parenting conflict and never badmouth the other parent, advise experts. “Children often see themselves as a combination of their parents. If parents can’t stand one another, it sets into motion a depletion of the child’s self-worth, ” cautions Sherrill A. Ellsworth, former judge and co-founder of coParenter.
Don’t Compete with Your Ex After a split, resist the temptation to be the “cool” or “nice” parent. Bending your rules only sets you and your kids up for failure. Vying for your children’s approval often leads to children manipulating parents against each other. Avoid trying to prove who has the more fun house or the easier rules. Spoiling kids because they’re experiencing a divorce will only lead to more problems for everyone involved.
Work as a Team From schooling to discipline, raising kids is full of important decisions that you and your ex will have to agree upon.
Kids thrive off routine and consistency, so experts advise that parents should aim to make decisions jointly and have the same expectations at both homes.
“Consistent parental discipline has been shown to be important because it ensures clear boundaries that don’t vary widely between homes,” explains Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.
Avoid Making a Child a Victim Sometimes, parents start perceiving their child as a victim of divorce and excuse every tantrum or misbehavior as a symptom of the separation of parents. Thus, they grow lenient with their discipline and the child’s behavior grows worse. Instead of throwing in the towel on discipline, try correcting your child’s behavior, not the emotions. Acknowledge that he may be dealing with many mixed emotions and validate his feelings. Talk about the hardship he may be experiencing but teach him that tough times shouldn’t be an excuse for bad behavior.
Seek Out Support and Consider Therapy Feeling alone through your divorce and the ‘new normal’ of co-parenting? Now is the time to reach out to others for support. Depend on friends and family members as an outlet to voice your frustrations, or consider professional help for you and your ex. Family therapy can involve you alone, your children, your soon-to-be ex, or potentially all of you together. A professional therapist will assist you in finding ways to communicate respectfully to the other parent and help kids express their feelings about the divorce.