“I take thee, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; and I promise to be faithful to you until death do us part.” Or until divorce do us part. With divorce rate being close to 50% in the United States (divorcestatistics.info), these romantic wedding vows seem harder and harder to achieve. Divorce can be amicable and easy-breezy. It can also be extremely challenging, confusing and gut-wrenching. This is especially true when children are involved. However, we are adults, and as adults we make choices. We must face our choices and live with the consequences. When it comes to divorce, our children are not the ones making the choices, and yet, must live with the cost, which more-times-than-not affects them for the rest of their life.
Throughout the years, I have asked several divorcees, psychotherapists, child-experts and lawyers what is the best advice for couples with kids who are getting a divorce and here are the top three:
Don’t bad mouth your ex-spouse to your kids
You are hurt. You are angry. And you might even feel justified for feeling this way. For example, “she cheated on me” or “he took all my money” or “he was abusive.” Understood. My suggestion is definitely to go and process this with a life-coach, spiritual advisor or to whomever you are drawn. But no matter how “horrible” you believe your ex is, never, ever, ever tell your kids how awful their parent is. Think about it: your children are half you and half your ex. On a psychological level, your kids will grow up believing that half of them is bad and rotten. Besides, they love their parent and the last thing they want to hear you saying are really nasty things about someone they love.
Stop using your kids as tools to get back at your ex. Your kids have feelings and these types of actions affect them for the rest of their life. If your ex is a good parent, then be happy about that and let him/her be a good parent. Being a good parent has nothing to do with being a good partner. Perhaps s/he was awful to you, but that has nothing to do with your child. Treat the relationship between your child and your ex as sacred.
Make the transition as easy as possible for your kids
A teacher of mine once pointed out that prior to divorce kids say, “this is my house.” After divorce, kids say either “I am going to mom’s house” or “I am going to dad’s house.” Suddenly, they no longer have a house of their own. The most ideal situation I have ever seen was that the kids never moved out of their home; mom and dad would move in and out when it was their turn. Naturally, most are unable to carry out this type of arrangement. The best family law attorney I know is my dearest friend, Araceli Lerma, and she suggests that each parent work on creating the best home environment possible for their children. This does not mean the biggest or most luxurious home, but a loving environment, where meals are cooked together and children have a space, even if it’s a bookshelf or a play area, all for themselves. In that way, they will have two homes that they equally enjoy and in which they thrive. Whatever you decided to do, please keep this in mind. It really does take a toll on children.
Do not force your children to take sides. You are the one getting divorced, not them. Your children should never have to choose between mommy and daddy. Put yourself in their shoes: it’s simply not fair. Healer Achaessa James says, “let them know that they can love both of you and that your feelings won’t get hurt.”
Don’t make your children feel guilty about liking their parent’s new partner. So your kid likes their parent’s new partner, be happy about that! Yes, that new partner may even be the one for whom your spouse left you, but that has nothing to do with your child. Your child just wants peace, and quite frankly, deserves peace. They have nothing to do with your battles, so don’t involve them. If your kids want the new partners to be at special events, honor your child’s feelings.
More importantly, if you are the one with the new partner, pay very close attention to the way your new partner interacts with your child. As a life-coach, I have had many clients tell me they were abused both physically and sexually by their step-parent. They are not your child’s parent; they already have a set of parents. I am all for the step-parents providing extra love and attention, but not to act as the disciplinarian. Many parents get so excited that they have found a new partner that they quickly want to “force” the relationship onto their kids. Give your children some space and respect their feelings. Don’t force your child to spend “alone time” with their new step-parent. This is often when my clients suffered the abuse. Finally, if your new partner is nagging you about spending too much time with your child and is asking you to choose between your child and him/her, you should definitely reconsider your choice in partner.
Set an example of love and forgiveness
You say you love your kids, prove it! Actions speak louder than words. Do you want them to be healthy adults? Do you want them to enjoy a healthy loving relationship? Children learn by example. Consider this: Karen’s parents get a divorce. But her parents never fight in front of her, and never bad mouth the other parent. They are amicable and very cordial to one another. Visitations are never an issue; they are both respectful of each other’s time and understand the importance of their child spending time with both parents. Now, let’s look at Jensen’s situation. Jensen’s parents are constantly yelling at each other in front of him. The parents are repeatedly telling Jensen what a loser the other parent is. His parents are always fighting about who gets to spend what weekend with him, holidays are always a nightmare, so he starts to feel like he is in the middle of a tug of war. Now tell me, who do you think will grow up more balanced, stable and with a positive view on relationships? Despite her parents getting a divorce, Karen will see it’s possible to not be in a relationship, but to stay friends.
The most important issue here is: do you want your children to grow up with love in their hearts or anger and bitterness? Do you want them to be able to forgive quickly, or have so much resentment that they are unable to have long-lasting, healthy relationships? What are we teaching our kids? Consider the long-term effect we are having on our kids. It’s simple: the more unhappy we are as parents, the more unhappy our kids will be. Would you rather be right or happy?
Araceli Lerma’s rules when getting a divorce are simple. She calls them the 3 C’s: common sense, civility and cooperation. Araceli & I will be leading a workshop on this very subject. For more information please contact me.
Are you willing to teach by example?
Sending you lots of love and positive energy,
Connie Costa is a Writer, International Speaker & Transformational Coach