Growing up with two married parents, I really didn't have a framework for what my daughter, a child of divorce, would go through when her dad and I split up. Although I hate the expression "child of divorce," as we didn't make her from divorce, the fact is she has a rather different experience than I did as a child. I wanted to understand what it might be like to go through her shoes. So I interviewed my friends, at least 10 who were all children of divorce, and over time as a parent undergoing the divorce process, I learned a lot about what things a kid doesn't need to hear or deal with about divorce or from his or her divorced parents.
1. Negative Comments About the Other Parent
I don't really care if your ex was a deadbeat dad or if your ex-wife was a royal b*tch. The bottom line is your child most likely loves the both of you so much that your negative comments or a family member's comments, like a grandparent or aunt or uncle, are detrimental to your child. When someone else goes to say something bad about a child's parent during or after the divorce process, it injures the child severely.
If possible, children really need both parents — even the one you don't like! — unless the party is not stable or able to care for the child. In April of 2015, a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that despite previous assumptions that going back and forth between homes is detrimental to children, kids who spent time living with both parents rather than kids who only lived with one had fewer psychosomatic health problems.
So as hard as it is to coparent with a potentially difficult coparent, keep in mind that as long as the other party is a stable parent, it's in your child's best interests, so "SHH!" No bad talk!
2. Fighting Over Anything
You and your ex can't figure out camp payments? Your ex doesn't want to sit near you at the child's soccer game? Pick-ups and drop-offs are peppered with underhanded comments and begrudging remarks?
No, no, and no!
You got a divorce so your kid didn't have to grow up in a toxic environment, remember? So what makes you think a few minutes of arguing here or there won't bother your child?
When you have a difficult coparent at all turns, use your friend email and text and avoid phone calls. At pick-ups, keep it brief with a polite hello, and then any issues such as the ones I listed above, use email or text to hash it out. We all know divorce cannot be perfect all the time. I of all people understand. All I am suggesting is try to keep any strife out of children's eyesight. It doesn't help them and it hurts them, very much.
3. Not Listening to Their Desires
According to Gail Gross, human behavior, parenting, and education expert, PhD, EdD and MEd, school-aged children still very much have magical thinking about you and your former partner getting back together. Obviously, when my daughter recently asked Dad and I to get back together, we didn't tell her yes, but we listened to what she had to say. When you blow off what your child has to say because it's not fun for you to hear, you're telling your child "I don't care about you or your feelings."
The best way to listen to those longings or hardships over the divorce is to ask your child to share how he or she feels; acknowledge that while you two are not going to reuinte, you understand why he or she feels that way.
4. New Partner
Many of the friends I interviewed shared feeling torn over a new partner. One subject, a female, stated: "I felt jealous over the attention the new man got from my mother." Another subject, also a female, said, "When my mom start dating the new guy, I threatened to run away."
This isn't unusual and we parents of divorce have the right to move on and love, but keep in mind if you are forcing a new person onto your child too quickly or rushing the bonding process, you could jeopardize the relationship this new partner and your child may have down the road.
5. Your Tears
Hey Momma — it's OK to be sad about the divorce! No one blames you. It's expected. And you cannot be Little Miss Sunshine around your kids all the time. It's not healthy or realistic, but your tears and anger about the divorce, your partner's coparenting, or money issues that may arise are all too heavy for your child's tiny shoulders to bear. This leaves your child feeling guilty and responsible for a sadness that he or she didn't create and most certainly cannot fix.
Something to also consider: when your child goes to visit the other partner, reassure the kiddo he or she will have fun. It's OK to be sad as you will miss them, but don't put your sadness onto the child. The child should feel secure to enjoy the other parent. In fact, the court social worker told me and a group of other divorcing parents to avoid stressing to your child how you will miss him or her when the little one is with the other parent because she said that doing so could make the child worry about how you're doing when he or she is gone.
Bottom line: yes, divorce is tough on kids, but it can also be great for kids. Living in two happy environments is a much better scenario than living with two miserably married people! Give yourself credit and keep plugging away, Mamas!