Divorce is a serious move that over 40% of couples are bound to make. The reasons are diverse, but what it probably comes down to is that one or both of you have decided this union no longer works. For some this is a tough decision and for others it seems relatively easy. Whichever one it is, when there are kids involved it makes the process more complicated. Kids are separate individuals and have their own way of managing the situation. How the divorce is handled for them is crucial to how they will get through this process and how they will look at relationships going forward.
It is silly to think that kids will just adapt. They can barely transition – with 30 minutes notice – from playing a video game to a new activity. How the heck could we think they will simply adapt to a new schedule, two separate homes, and potentially new people coming into their lives. It’s ridiculous and most of these situations are handled poorly (speaking from a place of experience). However, there are a few things you can do to be mindful of your kids and help them navigate this challenge as they move through life. This is not a coddling exercise – this is parenting. Try these items:
- Ensure they know who is in their support network. The day we told our kids I was adamant about having several people there who they knew and loved, this include my brother, my sister-in-law, my dad, and someone from my ex’s family. As they were listening to the words, they kept looking around the room for confirmation and then comfort; they found it there. It was also helpful to me as the people around the room gave me energy and strength.
- Set them up with a therapist. They need someone they can talk to and trust. Someone who is skilled in communicating with developing minds and helping them open up. They are likely to be angry and resentful towards you and your ex, especially if they are between eight and 18 years of age. It’s a small investment with huge dividends.
- Inform their friends’ parents (empathy is important). I took the liberty to talk to their close friends’ parents about the situation. I asked that if their child were to come home communicating their frustration with my child, this was the reason why and if there could be a conversation around empathy. This was very vulnerable position to put myself in, but I genuinely believe my kids come first on this one. If I really believe that, I must act accordingly.
- Acknowledge their feelings. They definitely have feelings and they will communicate them. Acknowledge them. Don’t tell them to get over it. Demonstrate the empathy they need and communicate with them about what is happening.
- Be honest with them about your feelings. Turns out it is OK to share some of what you’re going through. You can say you are having a tough day and that you really need them to turn up the good side of them in a particular moment. They will appreciate that as they will not want to hurt you.
- Be patient with them. They may be angry one minute, fine the next, crying the next, looking lost the minute after. This is a very adult problem and they must learn to adapt to it as children. It’s a pretty big task to get them to do, when they still may not know how to load the dishwasher.
- Inform their teachers proactively. They too will need to know as your child will be challenged focusing and may be misbehaving in school. In my case, both sets of teachers really appreciated this and were instantly empathetic.
- Keep them busy, in a positive way. Sorry if you are drained from the divorce, but it’s not your kids’ fault. It also may not be your fault, but you are the adult here. They need to be active and happy. Play-dates, sports activities, outings, and vacations are a non-negotiable especially in the first year. If you have spoken the words “what’s in the best interest for the kids” then this is a big one and you will have to peel yourself off the couch and make it happen.
This time may not be easy at all and I am truly sorry for all that you may be going through. The kids need you. They know they won’t have the best you because you will be honest, but they need you and they need fun. Set them up for success to transition as best as they can during this time.