During divorce, there is a lot of talk about doing what is best for your kids, what is in their ‘best interest’ and making sure that the choices you make are ‘kid-centered’. But sometimes we inadvertently include our kids in the adult drama that is divorce–and I want to help you avoid this pitfall.
Divorce is lonely. Chances are, you spent many years with another adult in the household to whom you could tell your feelings. You could share ups and downs from work, or friendships, or politics, and have a real conversation on these topics. Now, you are the only adult in the home, with just your kids, and they aren’t the ones with whom to discuss those topics.
Putting your child in the position of being your emotional and psychological caretaker is harmful to them because they learn to put that above their own needs–to play and have friendships with kids of their own age. Relying on your child for the same kind of support you would normally get from a close friend or spouse is swapping the roles of parent and child, and can have deleterious effects on your child into adulthood. This behavior could also have legal consequences for you, which you do not want.
So, what DO you do?
One of the best things you can do for your kids is to have a plan for how you will handle your own emotions and frustrations with your ex and the divorce process. All your kids need to know about your divorce is that they have two parents who love them very much.
If you find that you are tempted to share details of your divorce, or tend to vent to them in general, here are some things you can do instead, to help keep your kids out of that mess.
>Focus On Your Kids
When your kids are with you, intentionally focus your attention on caring for them. Spend quality time with them doing things that they love. Trips to the park or museum, playtime in the yard, going to a movie, baking cookies together or reading books together are some ways to accomplish this. Also, focus on looking out for their well-being–feed them nutritious meals, help them with hygiene or tying their shoes. Focus on making great memories with your kids, rather than focusing on how terrible your ex is.
This means taking time for yourself to do what you need to for YOU. Do you need a day to sleep in? A day to yourself spent journaling and catching up on bills? A day for a hike with a friend? Take the time to MAKE the time to do those things. It will take your stress level down a notch [or several] so that you will have the ability to control the urge to share your divorce details and frustration with your kids.
>Find a Coach or Therapist
Venting to your friends and family can get old. They are not always objective, and could tend to ‘pile on’ with all the things they always hated about your ex–making you feel even worse in the process.
Finding a divorce coach or therapist that you can vent to about your feelings will serve you twofold: you will not feel as compelled to talk to your kids as though they are your friends, and you will save yourself loads of money because you won’t be venting to your attorney to the tune of hundreds of dollars per hour.
>Always Speak Respectfully About Your Ex
Sometimes, you will need to navigate the fine line between gaslighting your own kids and letting it all hang out. For example, if your ex typically makes promises to the kids and then doesn’t keep them, making excuses for him and telling them they shouldn’t be upset won’t fly and doesn’t validate their feelings. Conversely, you can’t say that you know how unreliable he is and not to count on anything he tells them–that’s too much information for the kids and is not being respectful of your ex. This is a tricky one. Stay as neutral as possible about situations that arise and give your co-parent the benefit of the doubt out loud, while also validating your kids’ feelings of disappointment or frustration.
>Remember They Are Kids
Your kids love both you AND your ex–faults and all. Trying to change or influence their opinion of your ex is never ok–you also need to be a grownup and stay in your lane. Support your kids about going to their other parent’s home and welcome them with open arms when they return to you. They don’t need to be anxious or guilty about spending time with their other parent, regardless of your feelings about that person.
Once they are grown up, your kids might not remember specifics about your divorce, but they will remember that you were supportive and kind to their other parent, that you kept them out of the drama, and that your love for them was your guiding light. Sounds like a pretty awesome way to remember a divorce, don’t you think?
Need help negotiating a co-parenting relationship with your ex, or navigating something else in the divorce process? I’d love to help you. Feel free to reach out to me or follow me on Instagram for practical tips and advice.
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