When you and your children’s parent have gone through a divorce, this provides a sense of instability for your children. They are feeling uncertain where their family unit stands. Will they be able to see their parent whenever they want to? Will they always be able to be comforted when they need it? Can they depend on their parents anymore? Helping your children through a divorce situation should be your main priority.
Because this divorce? Just became about their sense of well-being. To THEM, this divorce is not about two people who fell out of love and no longer want to be together. This divorce is about two parents that they love with their whole being, no longer being there every day for THEM. This divorce is about THEIR world being shattered. THEY love their parents and may not be able to understand what this will do to THEIR family.
Some divorces are hard and uncooperative. The parents are so angry with one another, the feelings of their children are inconsequential. Some reasons a person feels divorce is the only option:
- Either a spouse cheated on the other.
- One just fell out of love with the other.
- Abuse. (Mental and/or Physical)
- Financial. (Loss of job or spending beyond means.
These are just a few basic reasons. There are many others that you could insert here. To children though, they make no sense. When explaining the divorce to your children, you need to explain to their age level. When my daughter’s father and I separated, she was three. We explained that as Mommy and Daddy were no longer able to play nicely together, we were unable to live together anymore. We explained that she would have two homes. Two bedrooms. Two beds.
At the same time, make sure the children know they will always have access to the other parent. Let them speak to the parent whenever they want. Even if you are in the middle of family time. There will be times when the children just need to hear the other parents voice to make their world alright. A few moments out of family night is better than hours of the family night being ruined by uncontrollable tears.
My daughter’s father and I agreed from the get-go, she came first. Our feelings about one another came last. Some divorces can turn ugly and arguments will ensue. How could they not? As much as you want to protect your children, you are also trying to protect your feelings of hurt and anger. And it is okay to express your anger to the other parent. Just not in front of the children. Why is that? Because:
- The children love their parents and shouldn’t be swayed by what they’re hearing.
- You are divorcing each other. Not your children.
In situations of abuse, this is a harder pill to swallow. The abused parent does have every right to protect their children from the abusing parent. If that parent never touched the children in anger, the abused parent has the right to assume the children could be placed in danger if they are not there to take the brunt of the other parent’s anger. This is in complete contradiction of what I said above. Because if you have younger children that never saw the abuse? You have to explain to them that Mommy/Daddy does not play well with others and it is better for your family that they are no longer living with you.
For visitations, yes, I know, you should still allow that parent access to their children. But, in a controlled setting. Supervised visits in visitation centers with a court-appointed third party person who has no bias and will not report back negatively to the other parent. Or, the other parent’s friend who reports back that there is no case for them to continue supervised visits because they are trying to help out their friend.
In the case of older children? It is quite likely they are aware of what is going on. There is only so long that this abusive behavior can continue unnoticed. While you don’t want to go into full details of the situation with the older children, don’t coddle them either. They are not stupid. Simply state, for our family’s safety, we need to live separately.
For twelve and a half years, my daughter’s father and I have co-parented fairly successfully. As mentioned, we made the pact that our daughter would come first. She never saw us argue. And trust me. We DID argue. She saw me cry once and when her father came to pick her up, she told him: “I’m mad at you.” He asked why and she replied, “because you made mommy cry.” We looked at each other. Me in horror that she saw me cry and him, with no recrimination. I sat on the sidewalk and pulled her in my arms and explained that mommy just had a bad moment. Daddy didn’t cause it. She should never be mad at daddy because he loves her so much. I swore to myself that day she would never see me cry again. He thanked me later for clearing that up with her.
Anger and frustration are going to be part of any divorce. That is a given. But again, you are divorcing one another, not the children. Even if the other parent wakes up one day and decides, “I can’t handle being a parent any longer.” Then leaves. In this case, the children are blindsided. Most likely? So was the abandoned parent. I cannot stress this enough. Putting aside your feelings to comfort your children is the most important thing. You will need to rant and rage and vent. Do that with your adult family and friends.
Parental alienation comes in different forms.
- Speaking negatively in front of your children about the other parent.
- In the guise of making small conversations with the children, you are asking pointed questions about their time with the other parent and making small negative statements.
- Allowing friends and family speak negatively in front of your children about their parent. Make a strict rule for them that they are NOT to speak negatively about the other parent, or you will not be able to bring your children around them anymore.
This post may seem that I am promoting you have Kumbaya moments around the fireplace with the parent you are no longer married to. But it’s not. It’s about making sure the children are okay. Making sure the children know that both parents love them. It’s about trying to keep the family unit as “normal” as it can remain, for the children. Knowing you can be angry, but not trying to “stick it” to the other parent because you are angry with them. It’s about not manipulating the children to think about the other parent negatively. It’s about keeping your family unit safe.
It can be done. Even when you feel your world collapsing, know that it can only get better. And know that if BOTH parents can work with each other to help their children through this situation, their children will grow up to be secure in the knowledge that no matter how messy the divorce was? They loved their children enough to make sure they were okay.