Every parent wants their kids to turn out happy and emotionally well. In fact, many people delay divorce because they’re worried about how it will affect their children. But believe it or not, studies have shown that divorce is not what hurts kids. What hurts kids is high conflict between their parents, which they tend to internalize.
For years, research has shown that the quality of interaction between separated and divorced parents is a strong predictor of the mental health and psychological well-being of children. Although it may be difficult to get along with your ex, the more that you can minimize conflict, the better your children will be. Kids can actually thrive through divorce. Here are 2 BIG ways to help them.
Co-parent respectfully in front of your children. Never fight or argue in front of your children. Fighting in front of children can be extremely damaging. I know this may feel impossible, but you can do this. Take deep abdominal breaths every time you’re triggered by your ex. Think through how you’ll respond. Call your friend or family member to talk about how to respond in a respectful way. Ask yourself if you have to respond at all. Keep your children front of mind. No matter how angry or emotional you are, you can protect your children by changing how you interact with your ex.
Think of your ex as if he or she were a colleague or coworker. What does this mean exactly? Don’t think about the relationship when you were married because you have a different relationship now. You’re co-parents, not husband and wife. Try to relate to each other in a businesslike fashion without emotion. Put on your professional hat and know that how you feel about your ex is less important than how you act toward him or her. If one of the parties is not being respectful, the other can say, “Let’s take a break and speak about this later.” Keep in mind three rules:
If your ex doesn’t abide by these guidelines, keep at it and eventually your ex should begin to follow your lead. It may take a little longer for your ex to get on board. Keep reminding him or her, “For the good of our children, we need to be respectful and work together.”
You can do this! Your kids are worth the effort.
Want more tips to help you not only survive but thrive during separation and divorce? Take a look at my free webinar, 3 Critical Strategies to Save Time, Money and Heartache in Divorce.
Divorce and separation are challenging no matter what, but when you have a difficult ex, the challenge increases exponentially. However, it can be managed, with the right perspective and some proactive strategies.
Your ex may have made you feel bad about yourself during your marriage/relationship so your self-esteem is low. You may be exhausted from years of dealing with your ex’s difficult behavior and you can get triggered by this. How do you co-parent when it’s so hard to control your emotions? Follow these 5 guidelines to make co-parenting with a difficult ex more effective:
1. Build your self-esteem and be patient with yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Be patient with yourself – if you mess up, recognize that you’re learning how to deal with a very difficult situation. Change your self-talk from “I can’t believe I let her get to me.” to “I’m doing the best I can and it’s ok.”
2. Don’t get triggered by your ex’s provocative remarks. This is easier said than done. If you can take a pause before you respond, you’ll give yourself the time to think through how you’d like to handle the situation. A pause enables you to respond rather than react. Take a few deep breaths, meditate, call a friend – anything that helps you calm down.
3. Seek a parenting coordinator through the courts. Courts can appoint a parenting coordinator to coordinate scheduling and communication issues between the parents. It’s helpful to have a professional who is trained to deal with high conflict divorce handle these issues.
4. Develop your divorce strategy. What are your priorities? What kind of life do you want in 6 months or 1 year? Without a strategy, you can get derailed by your ex’s behavior. Remind yourself why you’re leaving the marriage and what kind of life you want going forward. This will give you perspective beyond the current struggle.
5. Don’t make your child the middleman. Don’t use your child to send messages to the other parent, don’t vent to your child about the other parent and don’t ask your child for information about the other parent. Let your children know that it’s not ok to do those things and if either parent tries to do any of those behaviors, they will know that it’s not ok. They can learn to set boundaries with their other parent.
The life you want is waiting for you. Ignore the noise that’s coming from your ex and celebrate that it can’t control you anymore. Focus on the present moment, breathe deeply, notice nature, appreciate freedom. Once you recognize that finding your peace has nothing to do with anyone else, you’ll have the life that you’ve been dreaming of.
Divorce is one of life’s most challenging experiences but during a pandemic it’s just that much more difficult. For instance, how do you handle custody arrangements when families are supposed to be quarantined? What if you and your ex have different ideas about what is safe? One parent may think that it’s ok to see close family and friends and the other may not be seeing anyone. These situations may make it necessary for divorcing couples to communicate and agree on a temporary custody arrangement that’s different from what the original agreement specifies.
And if you’re still living with your ex, it can be even more complicated. You’re probably having a harder time keeping apart from each other. If there is conflict between you (which there usually is in divorce), how do you keep that away from the children? It sounds like a recipe for disaster.
All of this is stressful for adults, but it’s really stressful for children who don’t understand what’s going on. Following are guidelines to help parents co-parent effectively during the Covid-19 pandemic:
This is a difficult time. It’s ok to put the logistics of divorce on hold right now. Good communication, working as a team with your co-parent and focusing on the positives is more important now than it ever has been. Children need as much support as possible, and they need their parents on the same page. Set aside your differences, at least for the time being, and focus on handling this crisis for the good of you and your children.
The experience of divorce often involves intense feelings of anger. Whether it’s due to an ex’s behavior in the past or the adversarial divorce process, it’s tempting to hold onto that anger. However, letting the anger and pain dictate how you function each day will not help the healing process or get you where you want to go. It’s like trying to ride a bike with flat tires, you’re not going to get anywhere!
As good as it feels to point fingers at your ex’s mistakes, focusing on that will only create more animosity and won’t move you forward in your life. Yes, you probably have many reasons to be angry and frustrated at your ex but save those conversations for a therapist or a trusted friend. Don’t talk about it to your children, your attorney or your ex. Talking to your children will negatively impact them – they love their other parent and feel badly when anything negative is said about a parent. Talking to your attorney can cost you a significant amount of money. And talking to your ex about his or her mistakes will just escalate things and slow your progress in the divorce.
So how do you handle all the anger and emotions? You need to have a place where you can process what happened. A therapist, a trusted friend or a divorce support group are all great options. I run a Facebook support group – Separation and Divorce Support Community – which is one good option. Once you’ve started to process all the feelings that you’re going through, it helps to put your intention on learning from the past instead of reacting to it. What have you learned from your relationship with your ex? What can you do differently because of this learning? Take the time to come up with a plan for yourself and what you want in your future.
This may seem unfair because you weren’t treated fairly or you aren’t getting a fair deal. But what’s more important in life – fairness or peace? Fairness or happiness? If you could be happy and peaceful, what is that worth to you?
With every door that closes, another one opens. Embrace this new opportunity as a new stage of your life with happiness, peace and hope. Your personal transformation is an exciting time with endless possibilities. Let go of the anger and go for what you want. You deserve it!!
Jill Barnett Kaufman is a Divorce Coach, Therapist, Parent Educator and Divorce Mediator. She is an experienced professional who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges when considering divorce, starting the process of divorce or are already divorced.