How to Divorce without Destroying your Kid

 I was talking to my 9-year-old, Charlie, about my blog – we were brainstorming ideas for my next few posts and she piped up with “When you get divorced from your parents.” I knew what she meant – I think. We’ve noticed more and more over the last few years how many of her friends from school and dance are being raised by divorced parents. I’ve observed divorced parents of all shapes and sizes with as many types of dynamics as you can imagine. They range from so incredibly close that they still spend holidays together (and you almost wonder why they broke up in the first place) to hate-filled and incapable of being in the same room together. My daughter’s focus for this blog was on how kids can handle these situations, but I don’t think a lot of kids read this blog, so I am focusing on you adults, especially those of you who might be parents.

  1. You’ve heard this before – always remember to love your kid more than you hate each other. As much as you are able to keep your co-parenting relationship a positive one, your child’s life will be easier. (They will also be less likely to be able to use the divide and conquer strategies children of divorce have been using for decades). This will make your life easier, too.
  2. Coordinate with your ex as much as possible so there is consistency across households with regard to rules and expectations, as well as rewards and consequences. Kids like it when things are predictable and they know what to expect – make it easier on them and have it be stable no matter who they are with.
  3. Keep your negative thoughts about your ex to yourself. Your child is half that parent and you don’t want them to think “I am half asshole”. Talk with a friend, a family member or (surprise, surprise) your therapist about your complaints about your ex. Your child is not, and should not be, your confidante.
  4. Do not introduce your child to the new man or woman in your life for a while. I’m talking at least a year. Give your child a chance to adjust to having two households before complicating things with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Only introduce them to someone who you think will be a permanent fixture in your life – like marriage. Your child does not need to get used to a steady stream of men and/or women rotating through their parents’ bedrooms.
  5. Outlaw the Disneyland parent. This was really common when I was a kid. The norm used to be that moms had primary custody and dads would have visitation every other weekend. Well, dad had a limited time with his kids and wanted to make the most of it. Therefore, they didn’t work on homework or clean bedrooms or do chores – instead they went bowling and out to eat and to the movies. All fun, all of the time. This created the idea that mom was boring and made them work and dad was a party and non-stop fun. Ban this in your relationship with your ex. You can both be a little fun and a little boring – it is more accurate and realistic.
  6. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions – “Why aren’t you and Dad together anymore?” and “Can’t you and mom move back in together?” You will likely be asked them repeatedly. Your child will be making sense of a new situation. Try to be consistent in your responses and keep your tone light and positive. Focus on how much you and your ex both love your child and how that will never change.
  7. Do not bring up finances with your child ever. Your child does not need to know their father is not paying enough in child support or their mother is not covering child care costs. These are conversations for you and your ex (lawyers, too, maybe), but never for your child. If your child ever asks, your response should be along the lines that this is not something they ever need to worry about and you and the other parent have it covered.

I may have forgotten a few things – any suggestions? The basics are try to be a kind person. There was something about your ex that you loved enough to have children with them and marry them. Remember that. I don’t care if they lied and cheated – if they are a loving parent and will treat your child well (well, well enough, no one is perfect) then get out of the way and be the bigger person. It may feel like you are letting them off of the hook, but really you are only letting your child off of the hook.

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