When I was going through my divorce, I didn’t know what to say to my kids. I was doing my best to protect them so I didn’t share much with them about the divorce. I assumed they would open up to me if they needed to talk. Knowing what I do now, I would do things differently. Following are some key points to help kids open up during divorce.
1. Start things off with honest communication.
How you are going to communicate with your children during divorce starts when you tell them about the divorce. It’s important to tell them together - with both parents if possible - without blaming either parent. You don’t have to give too many details, but answer their questions as they come up.
Kids are focused primarily on themselves and mostly care about how the divorce will impact them. They’re typically not thinking about their parents’ feelings too much.
You can give them information like:
It’s so important to be available to your kids when they want to talk. You can intentionally create situations where they’re relaxed such as when you’re driving in the car or before they go to bed. Here are some ways to encourage them to open up with you:
Kids live in the present moment - they’re much better at doing that than adults. When they don’t like what’s happening, they may say hurtful things to their parents. Try not to get caught up in the things they say during a stressful moment. They may seem extremely upset one day, but that doesn’t mean it’s how they’re going to feel the next day or next week. Do your best to let little things go and not to take it personally. As a parent, it’s devastating to know they’re hurting, but kids are very resilient. Their moods will not last forever.
However, there are times that you should consider reaching out for help. There are some clues to show if your child is simply upset and processing their feelings or if they are having deeper struggles. Here are some examples:
These behavior changes are signals that your child isn’t coping well with the divorce and may need extra help from a counselor or professional.
The great news is that the most stressful parts of your divorce will not last forever, and that there are clear ways to keep the lines of communication open with you and your children. Many times, parents can have even deeper relationships with their kids after divorce when the strain of the marriage isn’t a part of the parent/child relationship. In the meantime, these strategies can give you a positive direction for how to get your kids to open up.
One of the most important skills you need when you’re getting divorced is knowing how to successfully negotiate your agreement. What makes this so difficult is that emotions can get in the way and then you can’t think clearly. You need to be able to put your emotions aside and think clearly through your divorce negotiations. Here are 3 key points you must keep in mind to negotiate your divorce agreement well. Your divorce agreement is simply a legal business transaction.
1. Your divorce agreement is simply a legal business transaction.
This is about your financial future. You wouldn’t make a business transaction without thinking through all of your options. Take your time to think through what the best decision is without being distracted by anger or revenge. For example, do you really want that old coffee table or picture just because he wants it? Emotions block you from having clarity about your priorities and end goals. I know divorce is an emotional time and you are hurting. It is important to deal with those feelings, but learn how to separate them and put them aside for a while. Make space and time for those feelings and then put them back on the shelf so you can focus on your finances and make smart decisions through your divorce.
2. Identify and rank your top priorities.
What are your priorities? What will you fight for? NOTHING ELSE is as important as this thing! Maybe it’s your retirement account, your schedule, where you live or if you keep your house. Rank 3-4 things that are the most important and realize you probably won’t get them all. Maybe you give up the #4 priority for the #1 priority. Knowing what matters keeps you laser focused and allows you to be flexible with the hundreds of other less important decisions that come up in divorce.
Separate short term and long term priorities. An example of a short term priority would be that you need your car repaired. A long term priority would be the custody arrangements. Your top 3-4 list should be long term priorities.
3. Know your ex’s priorities and be creative!
Think about your ex’s priorities. Do you know what’s important to them? If you discuss what matters to them as well as your own priorities, you can reach an agreement much quicker.. Tell your ex, “I don’t want this to drag on forever and spend all this money on attorneys. What is it that you really want? If you can tell me, I can try and make that happen.”
If your ex won’t share, use what you know about them and be creative! Let go of things that are not your highest priority. In my divorce, I realized I was digging in on short term things like season tickets when all that truly mattered to me was the parenting schedule. My ex, as a financial planner, felt strongly about certain financial assets. In the end, I let go of things my attorney wanted for me financially because I understood what mattered to my ex and what mattered to me.
5 helpful phrases to use in your negotiations:
Remember, this is a business negotiation. Nothing that your ex has done to you in the past matters now. Use these phrases in a businesslike manner and respectful tone to better understand your ex’s priorities so you can be an educated and creative negotiator.
Knowing your priorities in divorce makes all the difference with negotiating your agreement. If I had been clear on my own priorities and what mattered to my ex in the beginning, I would have saved SO MUCH MONEY in lawyer fees and arguments and bickering and stress. If you use the approaches I outlined, you are well on your way to negotiating a divorce agreement that works for both of you in the end.
Studies show that self-esteem tends to diminish during the time leading up to and during divorce. This is because divorce can feel like a failure, whether you wanted it or not. It's public - people know you’re getting divorced and you may feel like everyone is judging you. In addition, you can hyper focus on the negatives - what went wrong in the marriage and question every decision that you made.
However, you can improve your self-esteem with intentional actions. Here are 2 strategies to regain your self-esteem when it’s impacted by divorce.
If you’re struggling and feeling like a failure in your divorce, this has little to do with your character. The root is probably an internal voice that says, “I’m a failure. I should have known better. Why didn’t I do things differently?” Interrupt this negative thinking and reframe the way you look at yourself and the divorce. Talk to yourself and say, “I did the best that I could and that’s ok. I’m strong, I can be happy.”
Going through divorce does not equal failure, it's actually a demonstration of how strong you are. Many people are unhappy in their marriage but don’t have the strength to leave and can’t imagine a different life. Every day you move forward in your divorce is a success. Each time you interrupt your negative thinking and replace it with a positive truth, this is a win.
I don’t know you personally, but I know a few of your strengths. Because I’ve been through divorce myself and have worked with hundreds of people going through divorce, I know how difficult it is. If you’re going through divorce, you’re resilient and adaptable because life brought you this difficult circumstance and you’re making it through. All that life is throwing at you - every day you get out of bed, every time you file paperwork or show up for your kids during this time of grief, you show perseverance.
Take a look at this list of positive personality traits: warm, friendly, honest, loyal, responsible, funny, dependable, open-minded, kind, empathic, ambitious, intelligent, creative, generous, enthusiastic, observant, insightful, polite, energetic, organized, determined, forgiving, patient, artistic, thorough, witty.
There’s a lot to like about yourself, but you have to make an effort to notice these qualities. Most of us spend a lot of time encouraging others, but it is also important to encourage yourself. Write down at least 8 things from the list above and add your own that describe you. If you do this regularly, you’ll help improve your self-esteem and you’ll be amazed at the positive consequences of feeling good about yourself.
Your divorce doesn’t have to negatively impact your kids. Studies have shown that children with divorced parents can have the same positive outcomes seen in peers with married parents. But specific behaviors on your part can make it easier for them to thrive. Your kids need your help and commitment to keep their needs at the center during your divorce. Here are some things that will help your kids through divorce, for their benefit and long term happiness.
- Work on getting along with your ex
It’s not divorce itself that causes problems for your children, it’s fighting between parents that results in negative outcomes in the long term for children in divorced families. High conflict between parents causes children to struggle with their self-esteem as well as increasing the likelihood of anxiety and depression. When parents are fighting, it forces a child to choose sides and this can cause internal struggles and eventually, mental health struggles.
- Speak respectfully about your ex
When you bad mouth the other parent, your children internalize this criticism. It may feel like it’s only about your ex, but your children contain part of you and part of your ex! No matter the problems you’ve had with your ex, your child loves them and it’s hurtful to them when you speak negatively about their parent. It’s natural to be struggling through your own emotions, but your children don’t have to be pulled into it. It may be difficult but you can speak diplomatically and respectfully about their other parent in front of them.
- See your ex as an important person in your child’s life
It’s helpful to realize that your ex is an important person in your child’s life. If your ex is doing well, this is going to positively affect your child and that’s reason enough to wish the best for them. Working to increase your empathy for your ex can diffuse the negativity and anger you may have for them, which will also benefit your children. Get support from a divorce support group, a divorce coach or a therapist so that you can process your own feelings and remember that your ex is a human walking through a difficult time.
- Support your ex’s relationship with your children
It’s tempting to get territorial about your children, but keeping your kids away from your ex will usually have negative consequences for them. You married your ex for a reason and he or she has positive traits. Try to remember some of those and acknowledge that these strengths are valuable to your children. Occasionally, in divorce, one parent cannot provide a safe environment for the children. But in most situations, your children will benefit from having a strong relationship with both parents where they can gain different strengths from each of you.
It’s normal to be worried about how divorce will impact your kids. The good news is that there’s plenty of research to show what you can do to help them thrive. I hope this encourages you with some proven ways to help your kids bounce back from divorce. Taking these steps isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it to help your kids thrive in the short and long term!
Divorce is a painful experience that can leave you feeling lost. No matter how many years you’ve been married, your identity has been impacted by being a married person. When you lose this identity, it can send you reeling. Acknowledging all the big and little losses is an important part of healing. Take some time to journal about this loss of identity and talk about it with supportive friends and family, a divorce coach or a therapist.
The next step towards healing from this loss of identity is clarifying who you are and where you’re going. When you got married, you may have lost your identity as a single person, but didn’t realize it because it happened slowly. When you’re going through divorce, you get the chance to find yourself again and learn how to be happy in an authentic way.
Finding yourself is simply knowing yourself, what matters to you, and what makes you happy.
One painful part of divorce is that it shakes up our lives and we aren’t sure what will be left when the dust settles. But you get to choose who and what you want to keep and what to release and leave behind in your old life. You get to rebuild your self-esteem and confidence by knowing that you’re strong enough (you are!) to come through this even more healthy and whole than you were before.
One of the positives of divorce is the opportunity to find who you are and develop a future that aligns with that.
Start with remembering what you enjoyed before you were married. Write down answers to the following questions:
Take some time to think about these questions. Get to know who you are, what your priorities are and how you can move forward committed to living in a way that is fulfilling to you. This journey of finding out who you are can be exciting. Do you want to take up a new sport or other hobby? Do you want to volunteer and help others? Do you want to change careers? You have the opportunity to learn and grow from your divorce and the power to live in a more authentic way. Grab this chance and just do it!!
When you have children and get divorced, the final agreement must include a parenting plan to clarify what will happen after the divorce regarding the care of the children. A parenting plan outlines the parenting schedule - when each parent will see the children and the logistics of how that will happen. It also covers other relevant issues like how decisions should be made about medical situations, the children’s education and religious affiliation.
Everything that’s put into the agreement is part of a legal document, the Marital Settlement Agreement or the Separation Agreement, that’s filed with the court. Parents must follow that agreement and can be brought back to court if they don’t.
A child-centered parenting plan is one where you put your children and their wellbeing first. There are many things that get in the way of putting children first like work schedules and significant others. However, when you center the plan around the needs of the children and what’s best for them, it will help create a structure for them to grow into emotionally healthy adults.
Here are some key tips to keep your parenting plan child-centered:
When going through divorce, many people feel shame and/or guilt because divorce is at some point public and people feel like others are judging them that they’ve failed in their marriage. But shame and guilt are very different and while guilt can be appropriate and understandable, shame never is. There is a major difference between the feelings of shame and the feelings of guilt and there are ways to manage both.
Guilt is a feeling about something either that you’ve done or you *feel* like you’ve done. Brene Brown, a shame researcher, explains that guilt is about behavior where you say to yourself, “I did something bad.” However, Brown explains shame is much deeper and is the feeling like there is something wrong with me. Shame is a focus on one’s self rather than behavior where the person believes, “I am bad.”
Because shame and guilt are quite different at their root, it’s important to determine which one you are struggling with in order to understand what to do about them.
Coping with Guilt in divorce
To manage your guilt in divorce, explore your feelings. What are you feeling guilty about? Talk about your feelings to friends, family, a professional or journal about them. Decide if these feelings of guilt are rational and appropriate or they are irrational and false.
Rational: I took my stress out on my kids and spoke harshly to them.
False: If I had done XYZ, my husband wouldn’t have left me.
If you determine your guilt is rational and related to something real that you DID, then:
But, if your guilt is about something that you had no control over, but you just wish that you could have fixed it by some preventative action, that’s irrational guilt. You aren’t responsible for the actions of your ex, and you’re not responsible for every struggle your children are having because you’re getting a divorce. In these instances, work on your self-talk. Ex: “I am in control of my own responses, not the responses of others.”
Coping with Shame in Divorce
Shame is painful. Shame is the voice in our head that says that we are a failure, not a good person or similar negative messages directed straight at our identity.
To decrease shame, we have to figure out exactly what those messages are. What is that inner voice saying? Shame may come from negative spoken or unspoken expectations and reactions from childhood. What negative messages do you say to yourself? What you think about yourself and how do you talk to yourself and view yourself?
Determine where are these negative messages coming from? Was it from a parent, sibling, or some other significant adult in our life? Was it from religion's or a school's explicit or implicit messages? Or was it something else?
Identify negative thoughts that get stuck on repeat. Call out those thoughts and replace them with new, positive thoughts. Write all your strengths down. Replace the cycle of negative thoughts with positive affirmations and write them down where you can see them. Surround yourself with supportive people or a therapist who can help you work through these negative core beliefs.
It takes work but you can manage your guilt and shame. Like Robert Frost wrote: The only way out is through.
Does every communication with your ex end in you feeling frustrated and emotional? Then your ex is probably a high conflict person. Divorce is hard enough when both parties are reasonable. Throw a high-conflict ex into the mix and it can feel unbearable. Communicating peacefully with a high-conflict ex may seem impossible, but there are things you can do to communicate effectively and navigate this process with less stress.
Here are tips to keep in mind when communicating with a high-conflict ex:
You can do this! Your children are worth the effort. If you can use these tips successfully, conflict between you and your ex will decrease and you and your children will benefit.
Parenting is difficult when you have a good, strong marriage. When going through divorce, parenting has additional complications. In order to co-parent effectively, you need to have mutual respect, strong communication skills and a willingness to compromise and work together for the good of your children. It's extremely difficult to have all of the skills necessary to co-parent effectively when you're angry at one another and are in the middle of divorce negotiations.
After a marriage ends, there can be a lot of built up anger and resentment. Sometimes attorneys can exacerbate those negative feelings as they try to get the best deal for their clients. Meanwhile, if you have children together, you need to interact with each other to discuss parenting schedules and various issues that come up with your children. This can be a recipe for disaster because the children see and feel the tension between their parents. Children can be significantly impacted by this tension.
Co-parenting counseling can help. Co-parenting counseling enables parents, with the help of an experienced professional, to work together to build communication and other skills so that they can work together productively. The professional can be very clear about where the boundaries are - what's acceptable and not acceptable for the parents to say, email and text each other. For example, one of my clients thought that it was fine for her to ignore the other parent unless it was an emergency. The other parent would get frustrated and would lash out. Obviously, these are not ideal ways for co-parents to communicate.
When I work with co-parents, I encourage them to think of each other as colleagues or coworkers. This enables them to take the emotion out of their communication with each other. I work with them to be respectful of each other, use I messages, listen to each other and come to compromise. Throughout our work, I stress that they're doing this for the good of their children and although it can be difficult, most of my clients are successful. When my clients develop strong co-parenting relationships, they're giving their children the gift of a better future life.
This past year has been tough and a lot of people have lost hope for a better future. But that can change by recognizing that we’re somewhat in control of our thoughts. Did you know that we have about 6,000 thoughts per day? And about 80% of them are negative! That means that we have a huge amount of negative self-talk. We spend a lot of time telling ourselves that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough or not as good as someone else. When we do this often, it becomes a habit. We can start feeling bad about ourselves and lose hope.
The great news is that we can change these negative habits and train our minds to interpret our experiences in a more positive way. Sure, life can be HARD, but our patterns of thinking and the way we perceive the world can make it much harder than necessary.
In the words of Greek Philosopher Epictetus, “We are disturbed not by things, but by what we think about things.” Therefore, if we can change the way we think, we can change the way we feel!
Have you ever expected, even visualized disaster? Have you noticed or heard about a problem and started asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to you? That way of thinking is called “catastrophizing” where we catastrophize a problem and make it worse by escalating our negative thoughts.
With catastrophizing, we worry that the worst possible outcome will happen. We exaggerate the problem. When you realize you might be catastrophizing, stop and ask yourself the question, “What story am I telling myself?” It might take a moment, but get specific. For example, maybe you are telling yourself that you are ruining your kids and that you are a terrible parent and that none of you are ever going to be happy again. Whatever it is, when you force yourself outside the thoughts and examine them, it becomes apparent how dramatic your story has become.
After identifying the story you’re telling yourself, ask yourself, “What other story could be true?” This is where you use your logical brain and reference facts. An example of this would be, “Patty went through a divorce and it was so hard, but her children are all doing well and she moved on with her life and is thriving. That can happen for me, too.”
When you identify the negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones, you’ll feel better. If you think you are a good person who deserves to be happy, you’ll create a happy life. You’ll see possibilities for the future and have hope. While using these techniques takes mindfulness and work, it’s worth it as it can give you a tool to start the new year off in a great place.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.