You don’t want to think about it – but then it happens. Divorce. It can be ugly. It can be a relief. But when you’ve got kids the post-earthquake shocks can feel off the Richter. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are a few things you can do to help your kids because even though you divorced your ex -- your kids probably don’t want to divorce either one of you.
Talk up their other parent
Now, I’m not telling you to lie. If your spouse is in jail, don’t tell your child that they’re a model citizen. But I am encouraging you to remember that regardless of your current relationship with your ex, your child is the glorious production of your stint together.
To make this more clear: children love both of their parents. And the youngest of kids have a sense that they are part mom and part dad. So, when you bash their dad, you’re also bashing a little part of your child. So to the contrary, why not build up your kiddos who have already been through enough.
And you can do this in everyday conversations mentioning the good qualities of your ex. For example, if your oldest aced a math test and your ex was a math whiz you could say: You’ve got a good mind for math like your dad. Or, if you’ve got a junior stand-up comedian you could say: You’ve got a good sense of humor like your mom.
If you’re having a hard time recollecting the good qualities of your ex -- try to remember why you fell in love him. Did you (at one time) find exhilarating the boundless energy of your ex? Tell your kids how lucky they are to have so much pep like their dad. Or did your ex exude charm? Talk to your kids about their mom’s determination. Remember, this is not all or nothing we are talking about. People are complicated and can be fallible in ways where they were once strong. But kids need to hear the good qualities about each of their parents.
Allow posting pre-split family pics
Even though you may be newly divorced and the indentation on your left finger may still be visible, let your kids adorn your house with the photos they like best. And even though a pre-divorce family photo is the last thing you want hanging in your house, allow it for the kids.
But let’s just say you’ve remarried -- your kids still need to feel connected to both of their parents. Encourage the kids to place their favorite photos in their room, and don’t be surprised if some of the pics they post are ones where your now-severed family was fully intact. In fact, encourage them to post any photos. Talk about the fun times you had when you were all together. Push through any resentments or tugs at emotional scar-tissue. And allow yourself a good cry or pull out the dart board if needed.
Allow maximum face-time
Kids need both parents. Plain and simple. And unless there is a reason for concern with the other parent -- or it creates a major hardship on you -- consider the benefits of encouraging kids to have as much time with their other parent as is feasible. Enough said.
Give the benefit of the doubt to new partners
Like it or not, your kids will likely spend time with your ex. And if your ex is in a romantic relationship, your kids will eventually be interacting with the new partner. Plainly: Whomever your ex dates or marries will have influence with your kids. And typically when someone has influence over our kids (teachers and pastors, for example) we thank them, do things for them and try to win them over. This can be more sticky in a divorce situation – especially if it was an ugly divorce – and boundaries should always be respected. Sincerity is important. But look for the best in the partner. Don’t assume anyone’s motives. And stick to the facts: She seems nice. I don’t know her well, but I hope she’s nice. Giving the benefits of the doubt can do wonders in helping your kid’s relationship with both parents -- and perhaps even your relationship with the new person in your child’s life. No one expects you to become BFFs with your ex’s new partner (that would be awkward) but looking for the good will do wonders to heal your own heart.
Let bygones be bygones
Above all, keep past hurts from seeping into your relationships with your kids. You divorced the person you were married to, but make the effort to get to know the person that you’ve divorced in a new light. She is no longer your spouse. But she is a person your child loves. The benefits to your kids are worth it. The benefits to your life are worth it. And it will likely create space in your heart for more good stuff to come in.
(Heather Merrill is a single mom, writer and eyewitness to preschooler debacles.)