Although every divorce situation is entirely unique, I’ve never seen one in my years of doing therapy that I’d call easy. Even the most cordial couple going through a divorce experiences deep pain and stress as they divide their life in two. This becomes exponentially more difficult when there are children involved. It not only makes the divorce process more complicated but many children react negatively to parents separating. This can create even more stress. There will never be a perfect one size fits all fix to guide parents through divorce and co-parenting. However, research has shown there are a few things parents can do in any divorce situation that will give their children the best chance of adapting to their new life in a healthy way.
Talk About it.
This is a common piece of advice for any major event or change that is going to occur in a family. Talk to your children about the divorce and co-parenting. If you are able to without becoming hostile, do it together. Explain to your child or children that the divorce is not their fault. Emphasize that no matter what happens both parents love them and will be there for them.
Divorce is a very confusing time for children. They will likely have a lot of questions and new feelings they may not have experienced before. These emotions may include confusion, self-blame, sadness and grief. Without a safe place to express themselves children may act out or seem to regress. This is often as a result of these heavy emotions. As a parent if you are able to create this safe place for a child to talk, ask questions and express themselves, the chances of them acting out to express negative emotions or to get attention are lowered.
Children thrive on routine – knowing when they eat dinner, when their bedtime is, and what the schedule is. This helps to create normalcy and safety for a child. When a family goes through a divorce many routines can become disrupted. Whether that is because a parent has to go back to work or because there are two households, this can add to the confusion for children.
During this time, creating as much continuity as possible is key. For example, one bedtime no matter who the children are with. Try keeping up with extracurriculars the children enjoy and if possible keep the children in the school they are already in. The less that changes the easier this time can be for you child. If some of these things are not possible, try to keep things as consistent as you can. And if in that, make sure to communicate with your child about the changes. This will ease the stress they may be feeling with all the other changes going on in their lives.
Respect the other Parent.
As difficult as it may feel at times, maintain respect for the other parent throughout this process. Doing so will benefit your children significantly. When you respect your co-parent in front of your children, it shields them from conflict. This allows them to feel like they can speak openly to you about their life with the other parent without judgement. In addition, it teaches them how to be kind to others despite previous frustrations. Remember that your child is half you and half your ex. They may see themselves this way and so when you criticize their other parent they may take it as criticizing them.
Consider the future.
If you are worried about how co parenting may be with your ex in the future, consider writing a “Co-parenting Plan”. This is a document that can outline boundaries and expectations of what co-parenting between you and your ex may look like. Depending on the relationship that you and your partner have, this may be something that would be more beneficial if facilitated through a third party. Regardless of who assists in creating this a co-parenting plan should include how time is broken up between the two parents. This includes situations such as number of overnights, fun time, routine time, etc,, and how decisions will be made.
No matter how well planned or organized you are, dividing a household is hard. It is going to be a very stressful time. As much as you focus on taking care of your children, remember to also take care of yourself. If you are in this situation and are feeling overwhelmed, confused or would like some support and guidance, this group of therapists can help. They can help you create a safe space with your child, help you have amicable conversations with your current or ex partner and help you maintain healthy coping skills during this stressful time. Click here to schedule with them now!