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.
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:
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.
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.
Divorce is one of life’s most challenging experiences but during a pandemic it’s just that much more difficult. For instance, how do you handle custody arrangements when families are supposed to be quarantined? What if you and your ex have different ideas about what is safe? One parent may think that it’s ok to see close family and friends and the other may not be seeing anyone. These situations may make it necessary for divorcing couples to communicate and agree on a temporary custody arrangement that’s different from what the original agreement specifies.
And if you’re still living with your ex, it can be even more complicated. You’re probably having a harder time keeping apart from each other. If there's conflict between you (which there usually is in divorce), how do you keep that away from the children? It sounds like a recipe for disaster.
All of this is stressful for adults, but it’s really stressful for children who don’t understand what’s going on. Following are guidelines to help parents co-parent effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic:
1.Talk to your ex about putting your anger aside for the good of the children. Recognize that this is an emergency and that you need to work together in order for your children to feel better during this stressful time.
2.Together, maybe by Skype, reassure your children that everything’s going to be ok. Ask your children if they’re worried about anything and work together as a family to help each other.
3.Provide consistent routines such as waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, doing school work at the same time every day, etc. Routines can help children have more stability.
4.Focus on the positives. You probably have more time to spend with your children. Play games, laugh, be in the moment and go outside every day you can. When you pay attention to positives, you have less time and focus on all the things you don’t have control of.
This is a difficult time. It’s ok to put the logistics of divorce on hold right now. Good communication, working as a team with your co-parent and focusing on the positives is more important now than it ever has been. Children need as much support as possible, and they need their parents on the same page. Set aside your differences, at least for the time being, and focus on handling this crisis for the good of you and your children.
Most of the time, when a couple goes through separation and divorce, many angry and resentful feelings occur and it's difficult to see any way to forgive an ex-spouse. However, there are ways to work toward forgiveness. Not only will you benefit from forgiving your ex-spouse, if you have children, they will benefit tremendously.
Forgiveness involves a change of heart and occurs at different times for different people. Circumstances can impact the ability to forgive. If there was an affair, an addiction or some other betrayal, it may take longer to forgive. But there are many reasons to forgive your ex-spouse, including the impact that not forgiving has on you.
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
When you hold onto anger, you’re hurting yourself. You can become stuck in the feelings from the past and it can hold you back from moving on with your life. In addition, it doesn’t feel good to be angry much of the time. It’s not good for people physically to be angry and to hold onto anger. Finally, it can negatively impact children when one or both of their parents are angry at the other.
So how can you let go of your anger? The first step is getting it out. You can talk about it to a friend or therapist or write about it in a journal. Find a way to release some of the feelings and that will help you move on.
Forgiving yourself is part of the process of forgiveness after divorce. Being angry with your ex may be a way for you not to look at how angry you are at yourself. You may feel guilt, remorse and shame. If you develop empathy for your ex-spouse, you may then feel worthy of empathy and forgiveness also, potentially leading to self-forgiveness. This can lead to a journey of healing and the ability to move on in your life.
Although forgiveness may feel like the last thing you want to do, forgiving another and forgiving yourself may be exactly what you need. It will ultimately restore your personal power, reduce negativity and create peace in your life once again.
For most parents, telling their children about the decision to divorce is one of the most difficult things that they have to face. It is helpful for both parents to discuss ahead of time what they’re going to share with their children and how they’re going to respond to their children’s questions.
Parents should make several agreements:
If you don’t know where you’ll live, that will create some stress for children. Letting children know a plan for where you’re living, even if it’s just for the near future, will help lower children’s anxiety.
If there are issues that the children already know about such as substance abuse, sexual orientation or an affair, it’s better to acknowledge the issue rather than avoid it. If you discuss it with the children, it will enable them to ask questions and feel that they can come to you to talk about things that concern them.
Discuss what the schedule will be and anything else that will impact them. Children need to know things like will they be moving, where will each parent live, who they will live with, when will they see each parent, will they stay at the same school and what will happen on their birthday and holidays. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, telling children what’s happening in the near future will help.
It’s best for parents to tell their children about the divorce together. It helps children see that their parents are still working together. It provides a sense of safety for children through an unstable time. It also provides an opportunity for children to process the information in a safe environment as both parents are available for questions, reassurance and support. Choose a time where there's no distractions and everyone can be together.
If children don’t feel like asking questions or talking about anything, don’t push them. Allow them to have time to process the information. They probably feel a lot of conflicting emotions and may not be able to verbalize their feelings right away.
It’s ok to tell children that you’re sad about the divorce and that with time, you will all heal and adjust to the changes in the family. However, try not to show intense emotions like crying for hours or saying, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Even though you may be struggling emotionally, you need to deal with your emotions separately from your children. They need to know that you are strong enough to deal with the divorce so that they don’t feel obligated to take care of you. If you need help dealing with all of the emotions and overwhelm of divorce, see a therapist so that you can be there for your children.
In today’s fast-paced, connected world, we often communicate via email and text. Remembering to update an ex on all events, conversations and decisions is important and requires organization and time. But failure to do so can lead to the breakdown of the co-parenting relationship and can negatively impact your children.
Luckily there are tools that are now available to help co-parents communicate more effectively. The app that I’d like to highlight is called “2Houses” which includes a calendar where every family member can view an online schedule. Parents can schedule recurrent activities like tennis lessons and special events such as birthday parties. The app has a finance tool that helps parents manage their children’s expenses. When a payment is needed for a doctor’s appointment, a reminder is sent to the parent in charge of that payment. A great feature is a wish list where each parent can suggest what should be bought for their children such as food or something needed for school. It even has an album feature where you can share pictures of your children with each other. Lastly, there is an info bank where you can share important contact numbers and addresses.
If something is not communicated correctly, there can be serious consequences. Apps like 2Houses make it easier for co-parents to be on the same page. By using 2Houses, the chances of miscommunication is lessened and you and your children will benefit.
On average, 40% of all first marriages end in divorce, and over half of those families have children under the age of 18. When you add to that the 57% of millennials choosing to have children outside of a marital union, there are lot of parents who are not living under the same roof. Under the best of circumstances, raising a child is difficult, but when you’re divorced or not living together, it brings a lot of additional challenges.
Ideally, both parents share childcare responsibilities – and the quality of their co-parenting relationship can be characterized by the extent to which they support or fail to support each other. When parents fail to cooperate, it can have consequences for all involved. For years, research has shown that the quality of interaction between separated parents is a strong predictor of the mental health and psychological well-being of children living in this type of family structure and young children especially are at higher risk for anxiety, aggressive behavior, and poor social skills. If you can’t manage to get along, it can cause lasting mental and emotional problems for your kids.
In such situations, having a support network is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. All parents going through divorce or separation need supportive people that they can talk to, so they don’t speak to their children about any ill feelings about the other parent. A therapist, a friend, a family member, a clergy member, or any supportive individual can make the difference between frustration and anger and learning how to manage your emotions.
The following rules an help to build a healthy co-parenting environment:
Experts agree that parents who are divorcing need to have an age appropriate conversation with their children telling them: 1) “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love and we will always be here for you.”, 2) ”The divorce isn’t your fault, it’s ours.” and 3) “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.” However, to give your children the best chance for a happy childhood, the positive messaging can’t stop there.
There are a number of effective strategies that are extremely important for parents to bear in mind. One strategy to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to keep children out of disagreements between the parents. Even when couples are married, children get upset when their parents fight. Imagine how much worse it is for children of divorced or separated parents. They already have experienced their family breaking apart. They need their parents to reassure them that their new family structure is stable and secure. Children need to know that their parents will work disagreements out in a calm and rational way.
Another way to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to avoid saying anything negative about the other parent in front of the children. When parents say negative things about the other parent, they “parentify” their children. They actually switch roles with the child and children become the parent. Many parents don’t even realize that they do this. They rely on their children to be their support system and share information with children that children shouldn’t be aware of. For example, a father complains to his children that he has to pay so much in alimony. Or a mother complains that the father called her a name. These things are very upsetting to children and can be damaging.
Separation and divorce can be an extremely difficult time in life and it’s very important to get support such as a therapist or a divorce coach. This will enable parents to have someone to talk to so that they won’t put their children in the middle of their conflicts with their ex-spouse. This will enable children to focus on school, friends and their own lives which is what we want them to be focused on.
Finally, if your child complains about the other parent, encourage your child to work things out with him or her. Say something supportive like, “I’m sure that mom didn’t mean to upset you. Talk to her about it.” It’s so important for children to have strong relationships with both parents, if at all possible. These strategies can make the difference and result in children who grow into adults who have happy lives and healthy relationships.
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.