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.
I don’t know anyone who is not worn out by this crazy year. Friends, be kind to yourselves this holiday season. When you’re going through divorce, holidays can be tough. But when you’re going through divorce, there’s a pandemic and you’ve had the year we’ve all had, that just makes it so much more difficult. The following tips can be implemented when you’re alone, or they can be great habits to practice with your children. Some ideas here are probably familiar to you. But sometimes when we are worn out, we just need someone to remind us how to take care of ourselves again.
Zoom Out - Imagine you are using a zoom lens on your camera and zoom all the way in. It’s human nature to zoom in on the negative and have negative thoughts completely fill our “viewfinder.” When we zoom in on something negative - the pain of divorce, Covid, a misbehaving child - it literally doesn’t leave room to see anything else.
This holiday season, I encourage you to zoom out and see what else is in the big picture. When you zoom out, those painful things don’t disappear, they are simply put into perspective among all the other things in your life. And when they aren’t taking up your whole viewfinder, they leave room for you to look around and see the positive things you might have missed.
Gratitude - After you zoom out and you can see those beautiful things that are in your life, take a moment and notice them, savor them, even write them down or say thank you for them. Gratitude is not a denial of the things we are grieving, but a way to acknowledge that life is simply always a mixed bag and there are good things, even if it’s the holidays post-divorce and Covid has changed things.
Get Cozy - It is easy to get stuck in our mind or emotions and forget about our bodies. This becomes a particular struggle when we’re grieving. This year, be intentional about coziness and kindness to yourself. Make your space and your body comfortable and cozy. Light a candle or turn on the twinkle lights, snuggle in a blanket, have a cup of tea, find your PJ pants and slippers or read a novel. Other great ideas would be a bath or stretching to calming music. Do these things frequently!
Get Moving! - We all know it, but doing it is another matter. Going for a walk can do wonders for your mindset and it can help loosen up tense muscles, too. If you don’t have energy for a high impact workout, don’t worry. Just move your body somehow. In some places it may be cold, but remember, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing! If you don’t want to go out, dance in your kitchen.
I encourage you to write reminders on your calendar for appointments with yourself to make time for movement, coziness and gratitude, and stick to it. We make sure to show up for everyone else, this season show up for yourself so you can make the holidays special and enjoy the time with your family.
First things first…. In order to get through feelings, you have to feel them! It may be painful to feel anger, sadness and all the overwhelming emotions that come with divorce or any other difficult situation but it’s necessary in order to move on with your life. Anger may be directed at your ex, at your situation, at people who don’t understand and sometimes it’s even directed at yourself. This is all normal, so don’t stuff it or feel guilty about it.
“But, Jill,” you may say, “I just want to MOVE ON… Divorce is hard enough without focusing on my uncomfortable feelings.” Letting go of your anger is the first step to moving on and while it’s hard, it can be done. Holding onto intense anger toward your ex can make it difficult for you to experience the happiness and peace for looking for in your life. Here are 3 tips to begin the process of letting go of your anger so you can truly move on with your life and get to the happiness and peace you’ve been craving.
Letting go of anger is a process, and acknowledging your feelings and then working to release them will help. My book I’m Getting Divorced, Now What? walks you through steps that will guide you through a process not only to release your anger, but to clarify your goals and priorities, help you co-parent and more. You can check it out here!
Divorce and separation are challenging no matter what, but when you have a difficult ex, the challenge increases exponentially. However, it can be managed, with the right perspective and some proactive strategies.
Your ex may have made you feel bad about yourself during your marriage/relationship so your self-esteem is low. You may be exhausted from years of dealing with your ex’s difficult behavior and you can get triggered by this. How do you co-parent when it’s so hard to control your emotions? Follow these 5 guidelines to make co-parenting with a difficult ex more effective:
1. Build your self-esteem and be patient with yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Be patient with yourself – if you mess up, recognize that you’re learning how to deal with a very difficult situation. Change your self-talk from “I can’t believe I let her get to me.” to “I’m doing the best I can and it’s ok.”
2. Don’t get triggered by your ex’s provocative remarks. This is easier said than done. If you can take a pause before you respond, you’ll give yourself the time to think through how you’d like to handle the situation. A pause enables you to respond rather than react. Take a few deep breaths, meditate, call a friend – anything that helps you calm down.
3. Seek a parenting coordinator through the courts. Courts can appoint a parenting coordinator to coordinate scheduling and communication issues between the parents. It’s helpful to have a professional who is trained to deal with high conflict divorce handle these issues.
4. Develop your divorce strategy. What are your priorities? What kind of life do you want in 6 months or 1 year? Without a strategy, you can get derailed by your ex’s behavior. Remind yourself why you’re leaving the marriage and what kind of life you want going forward. This will give you perspective beyond the current struggle.
5. Don’t make your child the middleman. Don’t use your child to send messages to the other parent, don’t vent to your child about the other parent and don’t ask your child for information about the other parent. Let your children know that it’s not ok to do those things and if either parent tries to do any of those behaviors, they will know that it’s not ok. They can learn to set boundaries with their other parent.
The life you want is waiting for you. Ignore the noise that’s coming from your ex and celebrate that it can’t control you anymore. Focus on the present moment, breathe deeply, notice nature, appreciate freedom. Once you recognize that finding your peace has nothing to do with anyone else, you’ll have the life that you’ve been dreaming of.
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.