At every step during your divorce, remind yourself that your children’s interests, not yours, are paramount – and act accordingly
Husbands and wives divorce each other. Parents don’t divorce their children. Therefore children should never be forced to choose sides in a divorce.
Children cannot choose sides and if a parent expects their child to choose their side, it creates confusion for the child about their emotional safety in the family.
Bear the following 10 tips in mind for your children if you are divorced from their other parent:
- Never disparage your former spouse in front of your children. Children know they are “part of mom” and “part of dad”, and criticism can batter your child’s self-esteem.
- Compartmentalise your dealings with your former spouse to keep it separate from your co-parenting relationship. When in a relationship you gradually change over time as you react to each other’ perceptions and expectations but once the relationship ends, each one is free to be themselves again. Try to bear in mind that your former spouse and the father/mother of your children are actually two different persons. When negotiating about the children, try to see your former spouse through the eyes of your children.
- Don’t use your children as messengers. The less the children feel a part of their parents’ battle, the better.
- Reassure your children that they’re loved and that the divorce isn’t their fault. Many children assume that they’re to blame for their parents’ hostility.
- Encourage your children to see your former spouse frequently. Do everything within your power to accommodate the visitation or to keep them in contact with their other parent. If they come back from a weekend with the other parent and cannot stop talking about the good time they had, try to respect their experience. It does not mean that they love that parent more than you, it just means that they had a good time and probably learned something different from being with you. Don’t feel threatened; they need the exposure and the variety of people experience.
- If your child acts differently when they return from a visit from the other parent, bear in mind that it might be because the child does not yet have the emotional maturity to cope with separation and might feel upset and frustrated. It does not mean that the child loves the other parent more but rather that the child needs ways to cope with upsetting emotions. Be understanding, reflect what you think your child might feel, and suggest ways of coping with the feelings.
- At every step during your divorce, remind yourself that your children’s interests, not yours, are paramount – and act accordingly. Lavish them with love at each opportunity.
- Your children may be tempted to act as your caretaker. Resist the temptation to let them. Let your peers, adult family members, and mental health professionals act as your counsellors. Let your children be children.
- If you’re the custodial parent and not receiving child support, don’t tell your children. It feeds into the child’s sense of abandonment and further erodes his or her stability.
- If possible, don’t uproot your children. A stable residence and school life helps buffer children from the trauma of their parents’ divorce.
Article by family-focused psychologist Ilze Alberts