Contrary to popular belief, divorce is often the best thing for a child. It is better for them than growing up in a home full of tension and stress, where their model for future relationships is unhealthy. Divorce will be an adjustment for any child, but as long as the parents focus on the child’s well-being, their natural resilience will see them through the transition. Prioritizing some basic considerations for your child can create a healthier environment, allowing them to better process the upheaval in their life. Let’s examine some fundamental rights you should provide your child during and after your divorce.
A Relationship with Both Parents
Except in situations with abuse or other hazards, a child should be allowed and encouraged to have a relationship with both parents. Regardless of your feelings about your ex, don’t hinder your child’s ability to spend time with them. Visitations, phone calls, vacations, and time with their extended family all help strengthen the bond between child and parent. Encourage these activities and try not to let your child see hesitation or distaste on your part.
Of course, if you feel the child’s relationship with their other parent is toxic, consult your family practice attorney about addressing that problem. But unless it is a genuinely unhealthy situation, remember that solid relationships with both parents are best for your child.
Not only should you allow your child to have a strong relationship with their other parent, but you should also not make them feel guilty about loving that person or wanting to spend time with them. Encourage that relationship as well as relationships with your ex’s extended family. When the subject of your child’s relationship with your ex comes up, try to be positive, even if you find the subject of your former spouse unpleasant.
Separate your negative feelings about the ex from your child’s experiences. Actively work to ensure your child doesn’t feel guilty or disloyal because they love someone with whom you no longer have a relationship. That could mean suggesting they call Grandma on her birthday or excitedly helping them shop for a holiday gift for their dad. It also means not making negative comments about that side of their family and trying to hide your distaste toward your ex. Avoid negative comments that might cause your child to feel that their relationships are causing you pain or give them the sense they need to choose between parents.
Stability and Predictability
Divorce is a massive change in the lives of everyone involved. You can’t prevent that. What you can do is offer as much stability as possible to your child so you aren’t adding additional uncertainty and upheaval to their life. When practicable, try to keep them in the same home or school. That allows them to maintain established friendships and learning environments. If you must move, try to offer continuity by continuing their favorite activities or lessons. Your budding gymnast can have the comfort of the familiar feel of the beam beneath her feet, even if that beam is in a new gym. Your future rockstar can continue their guitar lessons in a new city.
These things provide a familiar foundation and reassure your child that while their life has changed, they won’t have to sacrifice things that are meaningful or important to them.
When significant changes are unavoidable, be upfront with your child so they know what’s coming. Give them control where you can. That could be showing them two potential apartments and letting them choose your new home or allowing them to paint their new room in their favorite color. Or it could be allowing them to visit with friends from the old location, even if that means a long drive for you. Offering self-determination when feasible can help your child regain some of the control they may feel they lost with the divorce.
The Ability to Remain Neutral
Your child may be the person you spend the most time with, so turning to them as a sounding board can be natural. Or perhaps you’ve had a particularly frustrating interaction with your ex or their divorce lawyer, and you are tempted to vent about it on the car ride home from the other parent’s house.
Your child deserves to be left out of the drama and tension between you and your ex. Don’t put the emotional weight of your disagreements onto them. Keep them out of adult matters so they can concentrate on being a kid. Don’t force them to pick sides or try to recruit them to see your perspective on your ex. Never create a situation where your child is torn between supporting one parent they love and defending another parent they also love.
Freedom from Arguments Between Parents
You and your ex will likely have many disagreements. If you got along perfectly, you probably wouldn’t be divorced. Don’t drag your child into these arguments. As co-parents, you and your ex should shield your child from your disagreements. Protecting your child could mean avoiding heated conversations when your child is present or commenting on problems in front of your child.
Wait to have potentially difficult conversations until little ears aren’t around to overhear them. As we mentioned earlier, divorce can actually be beneficial to children because it removes them from a tense, unhealthy situation. That’s only true if you don’t transfer that tension to the new households. Remind yourself that your arguments are between you and your ex. Your children should be shielded from them.
A Safe Place to Express Themselves
Your child will likely have some strong feelings about the divorce and topics like you or your ex beginning to date. Be a safe sounding board for them to express those feelings. Encourage them to come to you with their thoughts. Avoid being defensive or critical of the ex. Hear what your child has to say, alleviate their fears when you can, and remind them that they are loved. If you feel your support and encouragement aren’t sufficient or that your child would benefit from an external support system, enlist professional help from a trained counselor or therapist.
Couples going through a divorce often go to great lengths to ensure their rights as an individual and parents are protected. However, divorcing parents should also keep the needs of their children at the forefront of their minds. Putting the needs of your child first will be challenging. You may have to remind yourself of your goals frequently. Dedicating yourself to providing these rights to your child in the wake of your divorce will help ensure the healthiest outcomes for everyone.