9 Tips for Guiding Your Children Through Divorce and Beyond
Decide that you are going to move forward and not spend time, money, or health being angry about the past. If it’s over, it’s over. Move on. Your children have a future and you do, too. Make the most of it by helping them carve new paths. You may never have your old life back, but you can have a better one. Lead by example. Be the change you want to see. (Cliches persevere for a reason: there is underlying value and you are depriving yourself of a teachable moment if you discount them completely.)
You may feel damaged. You most likely are, and your children may feel that way too. That is part of divorce, so repair what you can, discard what you can’t, and let time do the rest. Love each other hard. You will heal. Someone close to me once said, “Wow. This is really, really painful. I must be learning something.” Learn to recognize that feeling for what it is and leverage it as best you can.
Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It takes up space in your brain and your heart, and doesn’t look good on you. Want your life and autonomy back? Pick a new direction, adjust your expectations, and go for it. Make adjustments on the fly. If you wait for someone to hand you a fair deal, or a workable plan, you will be waiting for a long, long time. And chances are that if you are waiting for someone else to define your future, you won’t be satisfied with it. You weren’t satisfied with what the person offered you during marriage, so why should now be any different?
Make choices before choices are forced upon you. You can’t sit out a depression without making your children sit it out with you. If you need help, get it. If they need help, give it. You don’t get Martyr Points but you do get points for progress. Progress may include being civil and cooperative with your ex’s new partner. Do it even if it kills you a little inside. Your children will see it, appreciate it, and even relax a little knowing that you are able to put aside your differences so that they can have a normal childhood. This is about creating safe spaces for them, not about fortifying individual positions. Think about this: you do NOT want your children to feel they have to apologize for your behavior to the new person in your ex’s life. If you are trying to keep them from getting too close to that person, being rude, unkind, or hostile will only backfire and create sympathy. TAKE THE HIGH ROAD. The view is always better.
Your children see and hear far more than you can ever imagine. They talk about it together. They will also talk to others if they don’t feel they can talk with you. If you are angry, bitter, and resentful, they are not going to feel safe opening up to you, and they are probably right. Let your children know that if there is one place in the world where they’re safe, it’s with you. You are each other’s home—even if you don’t live in the same house anymore, you have a home so long as you are together. Recognize it, cherish it, and nurture it. It will grow up and spread out all too soon.
Don’t waste time comparing your life to your ex’s life. The two of you chose this. In one way or another, you each helped craft the circumstances leading up to divorce, and you must each do more work to craft new circumstances. Even if you feel that most of the fault lies with the other person, work to create your new reality while letting as little of those feelings as possible inspire your creation. You really don’t want to look around one day and realize you’ve replicated some part of your former misery.
Learn a new skill. You may have to work harder now to keep yourself and your family afloat. The other person has to work harder, too. Only now, you’ve got two households to maintain, and the children need to feel safe in both places. Anything you do to shortchange the other household will just make you look like a jerk. Maybe not today, maybe not this year, but certainly when the kids are old enough to realize why you couldn’t be married anymore. And, if it should happen someday that there aren’t any funds to educate the children beyond high school, you will feel like an asshole if you have to admit that you pissed it away in a bitter court battle. Think of all the money that could still be there, with compound interest. Did you really get satisfaction out of bankrupting the marital assets?
Agree, if you can, never to tell the children exactly why you divorced. It all comes down to an inability to live together peacefully and in a way that provided a healthy environment for the kids. The kids DO NOT want to hear bad things about the other parent. If you think you’re scoring points for your side by taking shots at the other, you are sadly mistaken. Undermining love and trust in the other parent will backfire and regaining that trust will take far more effort than it did to undermine it.
The goal is to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted children, so start by giving them a good example. If you and your ex were unable to show them what a loving, committed, dedicated team looked like, set out to find someone with whom you can. Children need to see their parents love and be loved, care and be cared for. They will imitate what they see, so try to let them catch you in in the act of being kind and loving. These are the memories they will carry, and they will need five or six positive impressions to balance out each negative impression. You’ve got a lot of work to do, so choose well. It’s a long life.