In my practice, I see many people at their absolute worst. Their marriage is over, and they're coming to me for advice and counsel during the divorce process. Some of those people have children which further complicates matters. How does one navigate the divorce process without taking their children on an emotional roller coaster? Frankly, this is a difficult question without a simple solution or answer because every family is different, but these three guidelines are critical if you want to exit your marriage with as little damage to your kids as possible.
1. Never Bad Mouth the Other Parent
This one may seem obvious, but if you've been served with a divorce citation, you probably have some choice words to say about your soon to be ex. You should share those choice words with your divorce lawyer, your therapist, your best friend, or your pastor. Who you should not vent to under any circumstances is your child. It doesn't matter if he or she is an absolute scoundrel. Your child loves her other parent just as much as she loves you. It's not fair to place a child in the middle of an adult situation by deriding your spouse. It will drive a wedge between you and your child and place you in a terrible light when she gets old enough to process what you said about her other parent. Find healthy ways to express your frustration but keep it away from the little ones.
2. Avoid Using Your Child as a Bargaining Chip
Similarly, parents going through divorce have to navigate several issues such as who will stay in the family home, who will pay child support, and what the possession and access arrangement will be for the children. Although it may be tempting to punish your ex for his or her wrongdoing by withholding access to the children, please do not do this. Your children will not understand, and it's simply not in their best interest. The family unit as they know it is changing dramatically; do not make that change even more severe by making the children feel guilty for wanting to see both parents on a consistent basis. Doing so is emotionally abusive and could severely impact your child's well-being.
3. Maintain Their Routine
Your children may not tell you this, but the day to day happenings in their life are what makes them feel safe. Eating breakfast, getting ready for school, catching the bus to school, sitting through classes, going to extracurricular activities, and doing homework are all a part of their daily routine. If you and your spouse are going through a divorce, it is likely that their routine has been interrupted by one of their parents moving out of the home, or by them moving away from one of their parents. Some interruptions are unavoidable, but if you can minimize the disruptions from your child's daily life, your child can continue to develop and grow as an individual. The more you provide stability for your children, the less likely they are to resent either of their parents for divorcing. You and your ex have a responsibility to let your children know that you both love them unconditionally even though your marriage is ending. You can show that love by maintaining their routine as much as possible.
We all love our families. Sometimes it's hard to know if we're doing the right things for them. If you're contemplating divorce and need practical advice and guidance, feel free to give me a call at 713-574-8626.