Will the kids be all right? Divorce is rarely simple. It can be difficult to come to terms with and adjust to the loss of a long term relationship, especially one in which children were created. Although no one ever enters marriage anticipating a divorce, the reality is that many families endure this process of change. We often hear from friends, family, and the news about the tribulations of divorce and the certain damage it causes to kids. Although divorce is guaranteed to produce change for kids, harm and dysfunction are not imminent. I have worked with numerous families as they navigate this difficult process and have seen that when adults act responsibly, respectfully and proactively, children can thrive and families can continue to be successful.
Co-parenting is not an easy feat, no matter how you look at it, but here are 6 tips parents can use to increase success and decrease barriers.
- Agree to disagree – It is hard to accept the fact that your kids will have two homes, one of which you have minimal control over rules and expectations. Accept that your ex can make decisions at his/her home, just as you have that power in your home. Although you may not agree with how things are done in your ex’s home, as long as your kids are fed, clothed, safe, and loved, they will be ok.
- Choose your battles – When your kids are with your ex, think about the issues that really matter to you and have a conversation about how to create a sense of consistency between homes. You can certainly negotiate which rules need to be steadfast for consistency and to mitigate confusion when the kids go from one house to another, and for the rest of it, see #1.
- Model appropriate behaviors – Model the coping and decision-making skills that you would like to see your children use. Your kids are watching your actions and will begin to repeat this behavior.
- Don’t make your kids choose a side – Kids want to align their thoughts and feelings with their parents’ views. When parents divorce and are not on the same page, kids may feel pressure to align with one parent over another. This stress can be alleviated by letting the kids know they do not have to choose a side. Assure them that they can still love and respect both parents, even though the marriage was no longer successful. This stance allows you to support kids’ desires to protect and be loyal to both parents.
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all- Just as we learned as kids, it is important for adults to live by this same important rule. If you bad-mouth the other parent, the kids could identify characteristics in themselves that are similar to the other parent, which can create self-doubt in the children as well as resentment toward you or the other parent.
- If you’re ok, then your kids will be ok – Kids look to their parents for a sense of hope and confidence in their ability to handle the challenges they encounter. If you take care of yourself and present with a sense of positivity, your children will adopt a similar outlook. They do not need to worry about the adult struggles and problems you are faced with during or after the divorce.