For many people, divorce is the fear of the unknown. Many parents worry how their relationship with their children will be affected if they pursue divorce. It takes intentional work to maintain relationships after divorce. There are tools and specific ways to cultivate and maintain strong relationships with children during and after divorce.
When parents choose mediation, they preserve civility, and learn strategies to create a healthy “new normal”. When children see their parents work together, it boosts their self-esteem, decreases worry and anxiety, and provides a grounded foundation.
These guidelines can help you maintain open communication and stabilize your relationship with children during and after divorce.
1. Assure kids they are not responsible for the divorce
It’s important that children understand that the divorce is not their fault. Reassure them that both parents still love them and will continue to be involved in their lives. While your relationship is changing, your love for them will never change. Often, kids need time to process the changes happening within your family. Allow them to ask questions. Answer them honestly, in an age-appropriate way. Continually remind kids that you are still a family and the divorce is not their fault.
2. Don’t criticize your co-parent around your kids
If you find it hard to keep your cool around your co-parent, try to limit your time with them as much as possible. If you have to be around them, avoid discussing things that could start an argument.
It can be tempting to use your kids as a sounding board for post-divorce frustrations. This can cause them to feel awkward when sharing with you. No matter how you feel about your co-parent, avoid saying negative things or complaining about them to or around your kids. Your children shouldn’t be forced to choose sides, or feel like they need to protect one parent from the other.
3. Don’t ask your children details about your co-parent
Children and teens need home to be a safe place that does not stress their innocence. When your children have spent time with your co-parent, avoid grilling them about the details and what’s going on with your co-parent. Ask kids what they did or where they went, but leave out fishing for personal details about the other parent’s home, activities and life. This avoids unhealthy triangulation, which is stressful for kids of all ages.
4. Stay in close contact with your kids
Even the youngest kids can use digital communication. You can FaceTime with children, even if they are very young, so they can see and hear you. For older children, keep your lines of communication open to where they can email you or text you at any time. You can also schedule time to talk via phone. Regular communication is important to bonding, stability and trust.
5. Attend your children’s extracurricular activities
Strive to attend most of your kids’ extracurricular activities. Whether it’s sports, dance lessons, field trips or music recitals, make it a priority to be there. If only one parent consistently shows up and takes interest in these activities, children may be confused why the other parent is not there, which can cause stress and tension in the relationship. If you cannot be there, communicate directly with your child so they have an understanding and expectation.
6. Prioritize your kids
Being a single parent is undeniably hard and requires tremendous sacrifice. When you have parenting time with your kids, minimize things that divert your attention away from them. Kids enjoy simple things– play a game, go to the park, or shop for and cook a kid-friendly meal together. If you work as a team, children are more likely to enjoy eating with you. Creating new traditions with your children anchors your relationship.
7. Include their friends in activities and events
Children may talk with their friends about divorce in support of processing, emotional regulation and acceptance. As kids grow, their peer group defines their social identity and helps develop their self-confidence. Kids’ friends are a part of their support system, and as such, it’s helpful to invite their friends to go places with you. Whether it’s a weekend camping trip, going to a theme park or a movie, making plans with their friends creates memories and provides social support, and helps kids feel more relaxed and secure in your parental relationship.
8. Work with your co-parent for childcare
If possible, try to limit your use of childcare. If you have an event that you must attend over your parenting time, try working with your co-parent to care for your children, rather than having a babysitter do so. This can help build healthy post-divorce family dynamics, and will help your children feel more secure. Reassure your children that they are a priority and reinforce this with your actions.
9. Don’t send messages via your children
Don’t ask a child to relay information to your co-parent. Using kids as messengers creates triangulation and unhealthy pressure. If communicating with your co-parent directly is challenging or creates tension, use a co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard. Doing so reserves space for adult issues to be discussed respectfully and privately, when it’s comfortable and convenient for you.
It is vitally important to let kids of all ages just be kids, not referees. Try to transition your co-parenting relationship to a partnership, especially when it comes to kid issues.Leah Hill – Founder + CEO, Divorce Strategies Northwest
If achievable, this approach is beneficial for all parties.
10. Listen with open ears
Let your kids know that you are interested and concerned with every aspect of their lives. When they are communicating with you, focus and give them your undivided attention. Don’t just tell kids they’re important to you, show them.
Engage with kids by asking age-appropriate questions. Ask younger children about their favorite subject in school, what happened at recess, and what’s their favorite lunch? As you listen, you can share your opinions with younger children, but teenagers may push back on your guidance. Don’t try to control a teenager in divorce. Listen to their worries and give them tools to solve problems on their own.
11. Encourage kids to maintain a relationship with both parents
Encourage your children to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents. It’s natural for children to sometimes feel loyal to one parent over the other. They may take sides or feel like they have to choose between you. Do not triangulate children in shared decision-making; this is unhealthy pressure.
When children see their parents getting along, your example sets a healthy tone. Children learn that even though you’re no longer married, you and your co-parent can work together, especially when it comes to important kid issues. This mature example will help children in their own relationships, now and in the future.
By civilly communicating directly with your co-parent, you reassure kids of all ages that it’s ok to love both parents and that you’re both still important in their life.Leah Hill – Founder and CEO, Divorce Strategies Northwest
12. Remember that you are not alone
Many parents successfully maintain a good relationship with their children after divorce. Seek out support from friends, family, and professionals. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your children. Listen to them, answer their questions honestly, make choices that demonstrate your commitment to them, and assure them of your unconditional love.
The most successful co-parenting relationships with the most resilient kids involve parents who are supportive of each other. An experienced mediator will work with you and your spouse to keep your relationship strong with your children during and after the divorce process. They can also help you and your spouse learn best practices for communication and support healthy co-parenting strategies.
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