Nobody goes into a marriage with the intention of divorcing. Most couples get married with the intention of being with their spouse for a lifetime. Kids, houses, cars, pets, everything they bring into the relationship is usually done thinking “together forever”. But...life often takes turns they did not intend. Marriages begin to develop small cracks that often lead to full-blown fractures or in other words…divorce.
Today’s blog is not about how to prevent the divorce. We have spoken many times on that topic and will continue to do so. That is energy well spent and should be at the forefront of our efforts. With that being said, however, we do want to help couples successfully manage their families after a divorce has occurred. In particular, I’m going to discuss parenting after the divorce. Below is a common description of what I have witnessed and experienced in my work as a school counselor over the past 20 years.
After differences become “irreconcilable”, couples are often stirred with emotions such as: pain, hurt, anger, jealousy, anxiety, and depression. The idea of working with the person that they once said, “till death do us part”, brings up a well of nausea. Words like hate, stupid, jerk, selfish, along with a cast of other words unfit to put in print start to get thrown back and forth to each other. Sometimes, it even feels good to use such derogatory words to describe their ex-spouse. Then reality hits… “Ugh, we have three children together. I have to deal with this idiot for the next 18 years! OMG!”
This is a serious crossroads in determining how well a family is going to fare through this difficult time. When a divorced spouse responds out of those charged emotions, they often feel justified to speak negativity toward their ex-spouse. But at what expense? This is what I have seen in my 20 years working with families. Couples who parent out of hurt and emotion are setting their children up for trouble. Parenting out of emotion often creates immediate turmoil in the family and long term issues for the child.
Initially, children are hurt and confused by the attitude and approach divorced parents take toward one another. They are saddened by any critical words and quickly start to resent one or both parents if the criticism continues or festers. As they grow, children become desensitized to the critical speech and even begin to use it to their benefit. They begin to harden to the divorce, and approach life as a more self-centered survivor. They may even say or think things like, “I can’t worry about making them happy. I can only make myself happy.” At that point, they begin to approach their relationship with both parents as a way to take care of their needs and desires. They stop worrying or caring about anyone else but themselves.
Children of divorce can become masters at manipulation as they try to adapt to their new normal. They begin to work the parents against each other to meet their own needs. They make comments like, “I wished I lived with dad!” “Mom doesn’t make us do this.” “You’re mean, you’re always on my case.” Often times, this creates a tension where the child may even demand to leave one parent and go live with the other. If left unchecked, parents may find themselves with very confused, selfish, and disruptive children who sabotage every environment they enter. In many cases, these children struggle with coping skills and begin to demonstrate these destructive behaviors in a multitude of settings: school, home, teams, etc. As children of divorce grow into adulthood, we often see them take these same unhealthy patterns into their careers and future relationships. They sabotage them with the same destructive behaviors, and the cycle continues.
How do we stop the insanity? First, let me state up front, divorce is typically not good and frequently involves a great deal of hurt in all directions. Husbands and wives should do everything possible to avoid divorce by working towards reconciliation and healing of the marriage.
However, if someone has already found themselves in a divorce situation, here are some essentials to successfully parenting children to become well-adjusted and healthy adults.
Time needs to be equally split between both parents. Many divorces place the children with one parent a majority of the time while the other receives visits and weekend sleepovers. This may be convenient, but research has proven it to be detrimental to children and even parents. https://www.statnews.com/2017/05/26/divorce-shared-parenting-children-health/
Put feelings aside and focus on raising the children. I know this is easier said than done when emotions are charged and there has been lots of hurt and betrayal. But, if parents want to start healing and provide the best parenting possible for their children, they have to dig deep and swallow their pride. They must put aside the hurt feelings and start cooperating with the other parent.
This is not about you. It is about your children! Just as a couple would discuss how to handle various situations concerning their children if they were married, a divorce couple needs to work hard to have these same discussions after divorce.
Privately set ground rules ahead of time. Maybe there are certain topics that need to be off limits due to past issues, but both parents must agree that the welfare of the child is a top priority. Divorce parents need to set up healthy boundaries for conversations. They will need to keep focused on what is best for the child and keep the other junk off the table.
Never talk bad about your “X” around the children. This is often a selfish way divorced parents try to manipulate the child to see their point of view and jump on their side. When parents use negative talk to manipulate, they soon find the child mimicking it as well. This will eventually come back to hurt the entire family especially the child. Divorced parents need to stay respectable and civil toward each other regardless of how much they have been hurt.
Reinforce what each parent stands for or enforces in their home. Even if they don’t completely agree, a divorced parent should never undermine the authority and rules of the other parent. Parents will be doing their children a huge favor if things like curfew, privileges, chores, etc are agreed upon and enforced regardless of what house they are in. If parents work hard to find common rules, the child may not like it but they will feel safe and secure no matter what home they are in.
Parenting after divorce is the ultimate lesson in civility. I have seen amazing outcomes when parents make the choice to drop their selfish ways and do what is best for the children. Doing this creates a multi-generational payoff. Not doing this leads to a multi-generational debt.
These guidelines are so important to the future of the family. If you or someone you know needs help with this process, please contact Rock Solid Families at 812-576-ROCK, or visit our website at rocksolidfamiles.org. We’d love to help!