3 Tips for Parenting after a Divorce
(Guest Columnist Family Law Attorney Lisa Schmidt, July 25, 2015)
Let’s face it, divorce is hard on children. But the choices you make after the Judgment of Divorce is signed can make a big difference in the lives of your kids. Here are 3 tips for being a better divorced parent.
- Don’t Diss Your Ex
Depending on how bad the relationship got before you and your ex called it quits, dissing your ex may have become part of your daily routine. But by talking negatively about your children’s parent, you are hurting them. Remember, your children are 50% genetically his (or hers). By telling your kids that their dad (or mom) is no good, you’re telling them they’re half bad too.
That doesn’t just mean to speak nicely about your ex around your kids. Even by posting negative comments on social media or talking to your friends about it on the phone, you are running the risk your kids will find out. Then you will hurt them two ways: one by what you said, and two by saying it behind their backs.
It’s not just about what your kids hear, either. By perpetuating negative opinions about your ex, you change the way you perceive everything he or she does. Being five minutes late for a parenting time pick up changes from “just running a little late” to “has no respect for my time.” This could cause you to see innocent behavior as vindictive or vengeful, and could affect your attitude around your children. Instead, always try to give your ex the benefit of the doubt. If you have to vent negative feelings, try journaling or picking one friend with whom you will share your feelings.
- Try to Co-Parent if You Can
Of course, there is a reason you got divorced. No, you won’t agree on everything. But if you and your ex can bear sitting in the same auditorium or even going to an occasional dinner together, you will help your children feel like they have one family, instead of two. This can help their mental well being.
But there will be cases when co-parenting is impossible. If your parenting styles are too dissimilar from your ex’s, you are better off using “parallel parenting” methods. Rather than pressing your children to justify how their mother or father responded to a situation, just agree that what happens in his or her house won’t always be tolerated in yours. Set clear expectations for your children with pre-set consequences so they know what to expect. If they try to use your ex’s parenting style against you, just remind them that this is your home and the rules are different here. Don’t put the children in a position of trying to explain the other parent’s actions.
- Provide Support
The divorce process is very hard on children. They are the innocent bystanders in your war with your ex. So when they seem upset or distant, comfort them. When they need to talk, listen. And when they push away, provide them someone else to talk to. Recognize that they may be angry at you, and they may have a good reason to be. Do your best not to take it personally and give them the space to grieve the home they had grown accustomed to. And acknowledge your own fragility. Your life is changing drastically too, but due to your own decisions. For your children, the changes are coming no matter what they do, but they may not understand that. Be upfront with your children in an age-appropriate way, and never make them feel at fault for what happened. Your children are going to need more support from you as they adjust to living in divorced households. Be there for them. And if you can’t, find a mentor, counselor, or therapist that they can talk to.
Even the most amicable divorce can significantly affect children. But your decisions after the Judgment is signed can help them adjust more quickly. By respecting their feelings and needs, and doing your best to work with your ex to parent consistently, you will help ease the transition.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer with Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps divorcing parents identify the best interests of their children and make custody and parenting time decisions that respect the children as well as the parties. If you or someone you know is considering divorce, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a consultation.