It doesn't matter how bad your marriage was or perhaps how grateful you are to get out of it, but that to your kids, no matter what, they want you and the other parent to be together! Yes, as kids get older or maybe perhaps even while they're young they can see how you and your ex didn't work and enjoy the fact that you two aren't arguing anymore as that's never fun for a child, but still: children of divorce wish and want their parents to be together. It's only natural: children are known for loving even the worst and most abusive parents . . . why wouldn't they want the two people they love the most to be a part of their daily lives together? Unless they're mature enough to value how much more peaceful their lives are now, postdivorce.
I'm not saying this to make you divorced parents feel guilty, because guess what? I am a divorced parent too and I fully believe that no matter how much counseling we tried or how we modified our behaviors, my ex and I weren't right for each other. It's a cruel joke because I do love my ex and think he's a good person, but we don't make each other happy and it was time we faced the music.
There is one person, though, who doesn't like having her peanut butter and jelly separated, and that's my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
Knowing and understanding how much children wish for their parents together may make you feel guilty (don't feel that way though — it's better to be happy and single than married and miserable!), but instead of focusing on guilt, which will get you nowhere, use this piece of knowledge to fuel all of your interactions with your ex and coparent . . . and with your child. Knowing how hard it is and how badly your child wishes for the divorce to not be can help you approach your coparent with respect even in the most stressful situations, as well as love and empathy for your little ones.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Your kids love both you and your ex; you're their PB&J. Now imagine someone told you you couldn't have peanut butter with your jelly? Stinks, doesn't it? Children of divorce have their "jelly" separate from their peanut butter and while they adjust to it and learn to love both the individual flavors, they can't help but miss the sweet taste and ease of that powerful combo!
Think of it this way: when your child is with you, he or she is overjoyed to be with you but missing the other parent. There's a sadness in the joy that then is repeated when your child is with your ex. Yes, your child will adjust and the sadness will dissipate so don't get discouraged by my words. Instead, have empathy for your child who is always missing one person to get to be with the other. It cannot be easy.
Smoother Communication With Your Ex
Whenever your child is with you and your ex, remember that while you may really dislike your ex, your child is watching. He or she is watching and a part of your child may be thrilled to have everyone in the same room together and another part might be worried about an argument erupting.
No matter how classless or rude your ex might be or might not be, you must conduct yourself knowing your child loves your ex as much as you. Any insults or fights flung at your previous partner are seen as an insult and burden to your child. Is that fair for the kid? No, my friend, it's not.
No Matter What, Zip Your Lips
The other day, a friend of mine recounted an incident in which a child asked her dad why her last name was different and his response in the middle of a store and in front of his child was to say how her mother had run off and left with a "douchebag."
Whether the woman did this or not, my first thought was "How dare this man put his vitriol and adult problems onto the soul of this young child?"
Sure, the mother may be a drip, but this child doesn't need to hear about it. No matter how god awful your ex is, let your kid learn by watching your ex's actions, not by you recounting your drama with your ex in blow by blows.
Even if your ex is a jerk, your child wishes at least in the beginning of divorce proceedings for you two to be together. I had an old friend whose ex was honestly a horrific dad and person, but to add insult to injury her child was privy to most of their arguments AND she didn't hold back on the insults around her kid. That's a lot of adult emotion and burden for a little one to absorb.
Bottom line? Your children aren't your therapists. Find friends to vent to without young ears around.
Your child may be thrilled if you or your ex dates someone, but maybe not. In fact, don't be surprised if your kid isn't over the moon about your new mate.
I interviewed 14 adults who were once children of divorce. About 75 percent of them stated that seeing their parents with new parents was extremely difficult.
Kids want parents to have the happy ending and magically reunite. They want their PB&J. So when it comes to introducing your kiddos to a new love, keep this in mind:
- Unless you're serious, there's no need for your child to meet your flame
- Try doing a group playdate with other children rather than a one-on-one interaction for the first meet
- Talk to your child about the experience after. Tell them this is a safe conversation and any and all ugly, good, or awkward feelings can be shared. Don't get mad if your child criticizes this new partner. Give your kid some time to adjust
Wrapping This Up
Kids of divorce do adjust and do find happiness in their new lives after divorce, but keeping their feelings in mind first and foremost will help them adjust and help your relationship with your kids postdivorce. It's rough in the beginning and can take a while to come together, but with good choices, love, and empathy, kids and parents of divorce can and will thrive! Don't give up!