Divorce is ugly and painful. Voiced or not, when you commit to being “one” with each other, divorce is a tearing apart of that oneness and it hurts. Even the amicable divorces can leave deep scars for the couple splitting up, but also for the children.
Divorce flips children’s world upside-down regardless of their age. Even when splitting up is better than staying together, children have no vote in a divorce. They are expected to ride the wave of making two families where there once was one. Everything familiar no longer exist, unless you do a few things to minimize the potential damage.
Here are four strategies that might reduce the collateral damage for your kids:
Stop the blame game
There’s no positive reason to make comments that solicit side choosing. Realize your children now have divided loyalties. Keep the name calling, negative comments and tone away from them. Tell your friends, your mother, your therapist, but filter it all away from the innocents. Blaming each other and negative comments only demonstrates your lack of maturity. Kids are smart, they can see right through us. Let’s be smart about what they’re hearing.
Why should the kids house hop? Let them stay in the same house and let the parents rotate. As a teacher, I’m working with your children 30+ hours a week, trust me, they go through depression over the split even when you don’t see it. Your children are probably relieved the fights are over, but the anguish over where they will sleep and whose house is the main house, causes more grief than they can articulate. I hear often: I left my [you fill in the blank] at my [you fill in the parent but it’s never the one they’re currently living with]. Real or perceived, they’re unsettled.
Divorce is difficult for everyone and has its ripple effects down the line from you to the youngest child. Ending house-hopping creates a stable environment for the children and allows co-parenting skills that are not always in a state of flux.
Keep a notebook with a tabbed section for each child. In that section, keep test, grades, permission slips, activity schedules, etc. Take a few minutes a day to write down what’s going on. This can make a huge difference in the flow and continuity of your child’s life. The added benefit is you know better what you think once you are forced to put it into words on paper.
I strongly suggest a master calendar hung where everyone can see and add things to it: homework, science projects, athletic events, grounding dates, whose week is whose, chores, birthdates, etc. This type of visual planning along with the notebook journaling will keep kids from playing both ends against the middle. You’ll present a united front and head off most of the “negotiations.” It will also help you to focus on them rather than your situation.
For the kids’ sakes, get on the same plan!
Manners and Etiquette
Remember your children will be the ones to make the choices for your golden years living situation! Want to know how they’ll treat you? The model you are setting today will live long into their future. Manners and etiquette should be at the top of your priority list even if what you’re thinking is less than kind. Body language, vocabulary, responding rather than reacting will be mirrored for you not only during the teen years but when you’ll want respect in your last years.
There’s an old saying, “behaviors are caught rather than taught.” It’s a wise move to be aware that our children are always watching. They catch tones, even when they don’t see the fight.
Although being an adult should place us in the “old enough to know better” category, it doesn’t always follow true. Perhaps you will be the only person in the divorce handling things with grace and maturity, continue anyway. Little ones become teens, and teens become young adults sooner than you can imagine, and if we expect to breathe wisdom into the tough times of their futures, (the crazy 20s are just around the corner) we have to earn it long before we need it.
Divorce may be your only solution to a difficult marriage, but behaving well can exist regardless as to what caused the split. Even if you are the only one to treat the struggles with dignity and manners, you’ll come out the winner in the end. Kids grow up; think now what you want them to remember and emulate later.
In a world that rushes our children from diapers to Xanax at lightning speed, let’s act like adults and allow our children their childhoods.
Divorce strategies and planning may reduce stress for everyone concerned. And it might help your children make more thoughtful decisions when it’s time to choose your nursing home or end of life living situation.
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