How to Make Divorce Work When You Have Kids
What I’m about to share with you is based on my work with clients as well my own experience going through a divorce. It takes a lot of emotional maturity to get along after a divorce for the children’s sake. I admire parents who are able to make co-parenting work and put their children first. But it’s hard work. I’ve created some tips for how to help make this transition go as smoothly as possible.
Here are my top tips:
Tell the kids about the divorce together. Many clients have asked me how to have this conversation with their children. This responsibility needs to shared with your ex and you will likely have to answer a lot of questions together. Do not blame the divorce on the other parent in front of your children. This can set up some damaging dynamics where they feel they have to be more loyal to the parent that was wronged or held responsible for the breakup.
Do not allow those around you to ‘support’ you and put down your ex. This clouds your judgement and gets in the way of your own decision making. The negativity of others is not helpful for you or your children. If you find your family or friends putting your ex down, be frank with them. Explain that you understand they are trying to be helpful, but share that your main goal now is to try to have a civil relationship with your ex for the sake of the children. If you notice your own tendencies towards negative thoughts about your ex, remember what you still trust and like about them. Keep that top of mind when determining how to co-parent with them successfully.
Regularly talk to your ex about the kids. Every week, set aside some time to discuss how your kids are handling the divorce, how they are doing in general, and any plans for the upcoming week. You are both responsible for meeting their needs and this needs to be a joint effort. I recognize that communicating with your ex may be easier said than done, especially when there is lingering anger and resentment. You might want to try emailing if this is the case.
If you are still struggling to communicate appropriately, you can invite your ex to counselling sessions. You each need to take responsibility for the impact that you are having on the kids. Attending therapy together can help you understand your ex’s perspective and this can go a long way in helping you communicate in a healthier manner.
Provide personal things for the children at both houses (clothes, shoes, etc) to make going back and forth as easy as possible. Your kids don’t want to be living out of a suitcase. Some items may have to go back and forth between two homes such as favorite blankets or stuffies, or more expensive items such as laptops/cell phones. Be flexible.
Empower your children to speak up. If your ex is saying negative things about you to your children, you can encourage your children to ask their other parent to stop. Convey to your children that it is ok to say ”mommy, it makes me uncomfortable when you talk about daddy that way. Please stop”.
Even if you have primary custody of the children, introduce any major changes in your life to your ex out of a sense of consideration and respect. You will both move on with your lives and this is not about asking for permission. Keeping them apprised of a new job or a new partner will help sustain the strength of your co-parenting relationship in the long run.
If you need support following your divorce, do not hesitate to reach out for help. Some of the couples I work with come to therapy to learn how to separate amicably for the sake of the children. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about how therapy can help you navigate your own divorce. Joseanne@georgetowncouplestherapy.com