So you’re getting divorced and children are involved. How do you know what to do, where the pitfalls are or how to avoid disaster striking even in the most acrimonious of situations? There are no guarantees that everything will turn out well in divorce but the one thing that each parent can do is try their best to work for positive outcomes. If you’ve done that then you can do no more. So here are ten things compiled from our experience and discussions with other agencies and individuals that have helped predicated by the RESET creed of Love, Respect and Responsibility.
1. Don’t Bottle Everything Up But Talk To Someone
Divorces are emotional times. Try not to bottle everything up but have a trusted, reliable outlet to talk to whether that is friend, family, counsellor etc. They are stressful and can bring out the worse in people and if children are involved, can put incredible pressure on young impressionable minds. The key to managing divorce is to stay on top emotionally and if you need help to do that, then don’t be too proud to get it. There are plenty of specialists out there that will help you navigate your emotional and psychological life through your divorce and help you try and keep emotions and processes as separate as possible. The more separate they are – the better, generally, the outcome. Speak to your GP who will be able to point you in the right direction – keeping a level head is essential and getting help to repair a broken heart is the first step to doing this. They might too have suggestions to help children who are struggling too – keep an open mind and get the help that is there for the taking. Remember too to encourage children to talk to either of you, to family or friends. Help them by being optimistic and give them hope but don’t just say everything will be fine as this can inhibit their ability to share the pain they are going through.
2. Don’t make assumptions and find out the facts
Assumptions can manifest into disasters! Even though your relationship may have fallen to pieces, your responsibility as a parent has not so ensure that you continue to value the need for understanding, be fair and encourage those around you to be as well. Challenge your perceptions with a determination to get the altitude view to remove bias and prejudice. Children need more stability at times such as this than any other time and rushing to false assumptions (or at best one sided assumptions) can lead to long term dysfunctionality. Only work out of the right centres; rather than blame and avoiding the truth focus on responsibility, integrity and a selfless desire to help your children (and yourself) through this rocky time.
3. Remember your children will always have a shared heritage with your ex.
Being aware that your children will always share your genes and your ex’s is key to upholding their heritage during divorce. Always retain neutral ground with regards to your ex and do not run them down in front of your children. Let children speak about them openly, have a photo somewhere of them and talk kindly of their family. If you’re having a coffee with a friend and want to offload – make sure that the children are not able to overhear you! With any luck they will grow up to reflect the best of both of you and forge their own identity from the genetic heritage as well as other things, so help them to do that by remaining positive about their other parent. However hard it is, uplift your children’s genetic heritage. For instance, focus on the good of your ex for that good resides in them and let them know that you value that part still. Children don’t need to know what you don’t value anymore because the risk of them internalising that will only alienate you in the longer term from their affections. Check your own behaviours, encourage them to see both parents and help children to feel/know that you’re ok with this, let them have them have space when they are with the other parent to enjoy their time with them, don’t quiz them endlessly when they return and never make retorts about the other parent in front of the children.
4. Encourage those around you to remain positive and opinion free in front of the children about your ex.
This includes new partners, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles etc. Children don’t need everybody else’s two pennies worth! They just want to know that Mum and Dad still love them and that they will be fine! They also want to be able to trust any new partners and know that they will be a support for them – not take over – but simply be there as well. They don’t need to have their trust in either parent pulled down by adults who are struggling with the emotional outfall that comes with divorce and the intrinsic blame and judgements that often go hand in hand. Trust is a huge issue in many divorces (especially where affairs have happened) but children don’t need to be sidelined to either one or the other perspectives.
Help your new partner to stay neutral – a step mum or dad sticking their beak in will only make for problems and whilst such behaviour is usually meant in a protective manner, it can obliterate relationships. For instance, if your son or daughter are giving your ex (or you) a hard time – the new partner, who they don’t know or may not even have met, interfering can cause long term issues that in some cases can end up being non-retrievable. What child wants to live with or even meet someone who apparently hates their own parent. If a child has grown up hearing from whoever (in the nicest way) “You’re so like your Dad or you’re so like your Mum” reflecting on the good of that parent in the child and then someone is saying their Mum or Dad is x or y (in reflection of traits that person doesn’t like) then it translates in the child’s mind that they must also be x or y.
Remember that evolutionary bond is strong in a child and there is always two sides to a story but critically the children don’t want to be in the middle of it!
5. Honour your financial obligations – stick to your promises.
If you make a promise, do you level best to stick to it particularly where the money is concerned. Realize that money isn’t going to go as far now but have in the back of your mind, that child maintenance is exactly that – maintenance for the children. Don’t use it as leverage or to gain more/less access. Although money is majorly emotive – try and separate it off into the box of processes. Your children need your support as much as they need the other parent’s support not just in terms of maintenance but daily support. Pay what you promised and honour your children by doing so. If times are tight and you have to re-evaluate your commitments make sure you have honestly assessed your own lifestyle first!
Money is the route of all evil and no more so than in divorce! Don’t buy the children though with luxuries and treats. Children might like a new ipad or xbox, beautiful clothes but they don’t like be cheapened with conditional love. Love cannot be bought – support them the way you would before the divorce but don’t be tempted to link contact with anything financial and particularly not to get one over the other parent! Consider how you can both sign up to continuing to share some of the larger expenses such as school trips, specific items (sports kit, musical instruments etc) with the other parent.
6. Avoid subscribing to a Victim’s mentality.
Try and be honest with yourself over the split up. This is incredibly hard to do where there is abuse or adultery but if you can see a way to not allocate blame in front of the children, try to do this. Being a victim can be paralysing – do everything you can to break the cycle. Avoid a victim’s consciousness particularly if you have been the perpetrator in the break up – it might in the short term alleviate some of your guilt/pain but as more and more bystanders subscribe to your version of events, the truth gets hidden and you begin to believe your story of how you were forced to have an affair etc etc rather than take responsibility, be accountable and move on. Children are very forgiving – they love through mistakes but are also keen on justice – a parent owning up to their mistakes and moving on with love and respect will shine brighter in young eyes. Allocating blame can alienate children.
7. Listen to your children.
Give children space to have a voice. Don’t have a go at them for being selfish. Remember they didn’t ask for this to happen but they are affected heavily by the outcome. Focus on what they do right and help them build up a new focus that is positive and inclusive but most of all helps them forge a path ahead that promotes their future. If they come back from times with your ex, full of tales of woe or laden with goodies, avoid the temptation of frustrations and simply stick to your guns and your routines. Never blame the child but use positive means to keep them focussed on what matters and always offer a listening ear. Ignoring awkward or negative behaviours will eliminate them quickly. Children like security over anything else.
8. Be the Adult
Children will go through a whole spectrum of emotions during and post divorce. They will get cross, cry, stamp and shout or they might retreat into themselves depending on their personality type. They may even ignore you or demand that they don’t see your ex. Unless abuse is evident, try and work with them to maintain healthy relationships and to foster healthy goals. Remember you are the adult and they are the children and often the children hurting. If they accuse you of certain behaviours, take a step back and let them have their emotional space to come to terms with what has happened. Be the grown up and put them first but over everything ensure that there is consistency. Don’t be afraid of sticking to your values – children like to know where they stand and have sure foundations that don’t waiver help. Set routines and stick to them although ensure that there is enough flexibility to accommodate everybody particularly as these take shape.
9. Don’t have expectations
Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed. Have aspirations, have goals, aims, focuses but make sure they are your aspirations, goals, aims and focuses not dependent on anyone else. Be autonomous and keep calm. Also don’t expect children to suddenly become the go-between, between Mum and Dad. Make arrangements right from day one to ensure that the children are not caught in the middle. Particularly in the early days don’t make arrangements with the children without first checking with the other parent. The children (if they are older) might ultimately see this as disrespectful which goes back to the whole concept of berating the other parent and how children find this uncomfortable.
10. Finally, know that you will get through it.
Set yourself new goals and see them through. See the divorce process as a walk in the mountain and look forward to the new tomorrow. Try to uphold love by coming out of the other side of divorce cherishing what was good and turning away from the bad memories – at the end of the day that’s all your children want and they will respect you more for being nice rather than bitter! A lot of people have come through divorce (even where they didn’t ask for it) stronger, kinder more compassionate people – if you are one of these then you can’t have gone far wrong and your children will thank you for it.