Navigating the optimal way to get children through the transition can feel overwhelming.
How will divorce impact your children? This question keeps parents awake at night during all stages of the divorce process. Fear of harming your children is often a reason people stay in unhappy marriages. Wondering what is best for your kids and navigating the optimal way to get them through the transition can feel like a constant struggle. There are concrete ways to minimize the negative impacts divorce has on your kids, and make the transition less traumatic for all.
1.) Try an amicable alternative to expensive litigation
Choosing to intentionally and thoughtfully separate will decrease contentiousness, and will likely make the process faster, meaning your children will be exposed to less acrimony and uncertainty.
The traditional litigation system is inherently adversarial, and pits you and your spouse against each other from the start. Understanding your rights is important, but working to avoid expensive litigation will allow you and the other parent to better focus on co-parenting. There are ways to develop a co-parenting plan that you mutually agree on, rather than leaving it up to the court to decide.
No matter your personal feelings about the other parent, courts and the litigation system are not a good avenue to punish or take revenge within your family. Rather, choosing to litigate when it isn’t truly necessary drags out the process and makes it more expensive — both of these factors will be hard on your children. If you can put being parents first, and come together to draft an agreeable parenting plan, your children will have a quicker and smoother transition to their new reality.
“No matter your personal feelings about the other parent, the litigation system is not a good avenue to punish or take revenge within your family. If you can put being parents first, and come together to draft an agreeable parenting plan, your children will have a quicker and smoother transition to their new reality. “
– Leah Hill, Founder Divorce Strategies Northwest
2.) Insulate your children from drama
Adjusting to life in two separate households can be very difficult for children and takes time. When they are with you, you can help your children by focusing on having fun together and doing the activities they love, rather than dwelling on the divorce or fishing for details about their other parent.
Don’t let your children see you argue, and don’t use them as messengers to the other parent. Never speak badly about the other parent to your children. Doing so weaponizes the situation, puts enormous stress on the children, and will not benefit your relationship or your child’s well-being. Emotional regulation is also an important part of success during and after divorce.
3.) Invest in a good therapist (or two!)
Soliciting the help of a pediatric therapist for your children can make a world of difference. This neutral party is a healthy place for your children to speak openly about their feelings and work through grief, anger, resentment or guilt. These professionals are trained to help children process their thoughts and feelings, and can also work with you if your children need additional resources.
Seeing a therapist yourself will help you deal with the inevitable emotions you face as you go through the roller coaster of the divorce process. Having your own therapist helps you process change, making it easier to avoid the potential pitfall of speaking to your children about negative feelings you’re harboring towards the other parent or the divorce in general. This is also a good place to discuss parenting issues and get feedback about challenges you are having with your children.
4.) Take care of yourself
Take time for self-care. When parents are stressed, it can affect your ability to be a good parent and a healthy support system available to protect children during divorce. If the kids are at the other parent’s house, have a girls’ / guys’ night, get a massage, or simply enjoy some quiet tranquility. You’ll have more energy and feel more positive around your kids, leaving you ready to take full advantage of the time you have together as a family.
You may feel it’s obvious that children are not to blame for the divorce, but children often internalize feelings of guilt around divorce, assuming they may be the cause. Reinforce to your children that both parents love them, and encourage them to maintain strong relationships with both– the problems are between parents, and kids are not responsible. You are still a family, things are just different. If you sense they are worrying, assure them that these are adult issues, you can handle things, and they are only in charge of being kids.
Showing your children safety and stability in the face of change helps them accept this new normal, and process things with less personal internalization. Demonstrate healthy ways to interact and deal with conflict; they are watching you and creating internal standards for how to process change.
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