Divorce is ugly—no matter what the circumstances. Children are the greatest causalities of divorce. Typically, they have little choice when it comes to the aftermath. You have the power to diminish the pain for yourself, but it is even more important to diminish your child’s pain.
I have seen the trauma divorce causes children. Therefore, I have high expectations for the parents when it comes to appropriate guidelines to make divorce easier for the child. Seven out of ten marriages will end in divorce. As I pondered this statistic I thought back to a family that I worked with several years ago.
The father had left his wife to be with another woman who also was married. He bought a second home to accommodate this relationship and to live out “their dreams”. This was devastating to his children and his wife. They felt so abandoned and replaced the moment he walked out of the door.
The wife came to me in crisis, overwhelmed with feelings. I remember she said, “I feel like I have been kicked in the stomach and I have no air to get back up. All I can do is focus on the pain. I need the pain to stop.” She came to get strength and direction, but what impressed me most was that she came to get assistance and guidance for her children. She wanted to figure out what she could do to help them get through this horrible time. Despite her sadness and sense of abandonment, this woman did not let her anger interfere with her children’s relationship with their father.
Divorce can be more painful than death because divorce, and the pain that it causes, is ongoing and although it wounds many people in the process, children’s lives change involuntarily and they are used as objects for continued battling between their parents.
I coach divorcing parents to do the following:
• Stay neutral. There will always be opportunities to berate the other parent. Don’t do it! Stay civil, even if you ex is being negative about you.
• Create a schedule. Put the child’s needs first. Spend time with your child, and yet allow them the freedom of being with friends, going to activities, even if it falls on your weekend. Figure out a way to be a part of their lives, as opposed to their being a part of your life.
• Don’t give the child the gory details. Kids do not need to know all about the indiscretions. Keep it broad and general and do not use your child as a sounding board or as your best friend.
• Work together as a team for the sake of your kids. I tell parents that I don’t care what the circumstances are that led up to the breakup, it is the adult’s responsibility to work together to make their children’s lives easier. So many divorced parents refuse to speak to each other and communicate by fax or letter. They complain that their conversations always end up in a heated battle. I tell parents that no one can make you react. Phone conversations need to be redirected on the needs of the child.
Parents need to work harder. Let the small stuff go. Don’t give your ex the power to change your mood because it will affect your child the most. Stay civil, for your child’s sanity, as well as your own.