The “D” words…divorced, divided, detached. No matter how amiable and family-oriented a divorcing couple are, divorce creates one simple fact: there is a shift; a shift in the family unit from what it once was to what it is now. There are new borders and boundaries. There is a new rulebook, and how successfully you integrate this rulebook depends on how you interpret your new life and model your own behavior.
Think of it this way, your children are a mirror and they reflect back and become much of what they witness. There is a strong divide between saying “I love you” and actively demonstrating love. Words spoken without actions taken, without empathy, and without emotion remain just words. Love and compassion weave their way into all 5 of the tips below. You may be divided, but STANDING is all up to you! Whatever this new family chapter of your life hallmarks is all about another “D” word… doing. The actions you take now demonstrate and model your love for your children and set the tone for years to come.
Here are 5 tips for parents to navigate the post-divorce road with their children:
- Eliminate expectations and jealously because clearly life is not playing out in a straight line. If we cling to traditional roles and try to control the situations that arise, the entire family is left feeling disappointed. As parents, we need to meet our ex spouse at the intersection of defining our new personal identities and carving out the best scenario of what our kids require next. We need to be specific about what we require our co-parent to do and not assume that magically what we are thinking should or will be. If we needed something done at work, we would step up to make sure it was taken care of. Expectations should not get in the way of a cohesive family plan. Allowing imperfection to be the new perfect provides a cushion against anxiety, both your own and your children’s.
- Bend and flex with maturing children. The Sunday with dad or the holiday with mom may work for a year or two, but your kids are growing up and their needs are changing even if yours are staying the same. Sunday may have been the perfect day to spend with their father last year, yet this year Sunday may mean missed practices, forfeited games, homework not done or parties not attended in order to give the “other” parent equal time. Allow your children to grow and evolve and to make commitments to sports and friends. Re-evaluate what works every six months and be willing to hold a family meeting with older children present in order to figure out just what everyone’s needs are and how everyone and everything can best be accommodated. Anticipate and plan for the fact that this will keep changing.
- Treasure the teaching moments. There will be many. It may be easy to blame and point fingers at each other, but the years after your divorce build the foundation for so many heartfelt experiences and difficult changes. Use them to model real world behavior. How can you each make all the adjustments and shifts in your lives into sincere and memorable real life examples? There is always a silver lining if we look for it, make sure that this becomes a part of your family blueprint. Your children will be testing the waters and experimenting with the boundaries of their new family dynamic. Picture yourself as the tour guide in your children’s lives. You can point out the highlights, snap the pictures, make sure they get where they need to go, but the trip itself is ultimately their responsibility. Make sure that you are paving a road that allows them to travel fairly, safely and happily.
- Honor thy father and mother but also honor thy child and thyself. Even if you hate your ex, they are still the mother or father of your child. Together you share a life long miracle. As parents, we are each responsible for molding the opinions and beliefs of our offspring. If we badmouth their father or their mother, our children lose respect for that important person in their lives and they may never gain it back again. In the process they also lose respect for the parent with nothing nice to say. All the negative energy surrounding bashing your ex has a long-term negative effect on your children. It robs both the adults and the kids involved of positive role models and respectful and heartfelt behavior. Respect is not a given in a family, itneeds to be earned. Children need to feel as if they are being heard and have a voice as well.
- Live Life. Together. Independently. There is a gap in your life where a spouse used to be. Yet, you are still you…a renewed and refreshed version of you. Don’t make the mistake of filling that void in your life with your children. They are not your mate or your friend. Prioritize you, because without recharging yourself you are worthless to those that you love and care about. Give each of your family members, current or ex, personal space to grow, be creative, evolve and reinvent. Do the same for yourself. Even divided, you will forever be a family. Stand for something together, remain a family “team,” and stand for something apart and independently as well.