We all tend to seek comfort in our illusions, in little white lies we tell ourselves. “I can stop any time I want,” is a lie addicts and alcoholics tell themselves.
Divorcing couples find comfort in telling themselves that their divorce will not affect their children.
July is National Child Centered Divorce Month. If you’re considering divorce, have begun the process, or are already divorced, you should know that divorce will affect your children no matter what — and the way you and your spouse or ex handle it will amplify or minimize the impact your decision has on the future health of your kids.
Studies have shown it isn’t divorce per se that damages children. The harm is done by mistakes parents make before, during, and after this event. Three areas can be focused on to minimize the long-term effects your divorce might have on the children you so love.
First, how you tell your children is of major importance. Children need to feel safe and secure. Their imaginations can run wild. They also need to know they are loved. Don’t assume they know the depth of your love and concern. Verbalize your love and your commitment to cherish these little ones. Tell them, “You are, and always will be, loved by Mom and Dad.” You will always be your child’s parents, even if under new circumstances.
They also need to know that what is happening is not their fault. That’s a heavy burden to lay on a child. Discussing the divorce with your children is not the time to take digs at your spouse. This is about change, not blaming, nor about catastrophizing. Even if you have doubts yourself, you’ll want to convey a sense that everything is going to be OK.
The second area is how you interact with one another as parents. When there are children, your relationship with your spouse doesn’t end when he or she becomes your ex. For best results, stop playing games. The worst game you can play is “Who can be the best parent.” It’s not a competition. Trying to “win” will only make you a loser.
Please note it’s insensitive and unproductive to let a personal vendetta determine the relationship your children have with their other parent and the extended family on both sides. Whatever your conflicts have been, don’t involve the children in your differences or your battles. Keep it between you and your ex.
You’ll also need to manage expectations, both yours and the children’s. Things are going to be different, so you should not make promises you can’t keep.
Third, developing good communication systems is important. You’ll need to develop a good communication plan based on your preferred methods of communication. You should also agree to respond to email, texts, or phone messages within 24 hours, even if only to acknowledge that an important message has been received.
Scheduling, finances, and medical issues all need to be communicated. Some people have found online tools that are helpful for documenting important information pertaining to doctor visits, meds, school functions, and the like. For those less tech-savvy, a spiral notebook that is transferred back and forth can be used to communicate this kind of information. It can be personalized with photos both of you can share like “Lisa’s first day of school.”
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. Children are more resilient than you think. Do the best you can and you’ll be a hero.
Jessica Sterle is a family law attorney in Duluth.