Divorce is hard on children. There is just no way around it. How difficult a divorce is on a child or children is not an absolute but a continuum: It can be mildly difficult, moderately difficult, or very difficult.
While there is no way to have a “perfect divorce” that has no negative effect on your child, there are a few things you can do to make the divorce less stressful and take the path that is in your child’s best interest.
5 dos and don’ts for divorced parents
- Never compete with your ex to be the favorite or better parent. Many parents fall into this trap. They believe that the divorce, something they wanted and did, hurt the child. So in an effort to not hurt their child more they go over the top. They become excessively lenient with junk food, video games, bed time, curfews or talk back. They may over-indulge them with attention or affirmations and let the child get away with behaviors that were unacceptable before the divorce. Children need structure and discipline (teaching and correcting, not necessarily punishment). Remember to correct the behavior not the emotion. If your child swears at you it means they are angry. Anger is ok. Swearing at you is not.
- Be honest about your child’s behavior with the other parent. Unless there is a serious reason not to (such as a history of abuse) speak the truth when talking to your ex about your child’s behavior.
- Avoid talking negatively about the other parent or their discipline or rules in front of or to your child. Instead of saying something like, “That’s a dumb rule,” use the affirmative and say, “Well in this house we do it this way.”
- Never use your child as the messenger. Communicate through your lawyer, text, email, phone call or parenting app, not through the child. This is a very common mistake listed in Divorce Magazine and numerous other parenting sites.
- Your child is not your therapist. After a divorce it can be tempting to overshare with your child, especially if that child is a pre-teen or teenager, greedy for details into your personal life. “Children,” states family and parenting researcher and professor Lisa M. Hooper in an Washington Post article, “should not be serving the intimate needs of the parent.”
Parenting is difficult. Divorced parenting can add new challenges. If you’re feeling overwhelmed be sure to take care of your own emotional needs with a therapist or support group.