Putting Kids First When You’re Getting a Divorce
Most divorced parents try to put their children’s interests first, but it can be hard. Here’s how to avoid mistakes that can hurt kids.
When going through divorce, most parents strive to put their children’s needs ahead of their own. But sometimes, divorced parents make mistakes that affect their kids. For instance, some parents are so angry at one another they don’t shield their children from the drama. Or they might be so distraught that they aren’t emotionally available to their children. If you find yourself taking some of the following actions, remind yourself it’s not too late to get back on track.
Using children as pawns
Some divorced parents ask children to spy on the ex and pump them for information about what’s going on in the ex’s life. Kids may also be used as messengers, or to ask questions like, “Mom wants to know why the child support is late.” Or parents sometimes may badmouth the ex in front of the children or ask them to take sides in their battles. Parents also may compete for their children’s affection by buying expensive gifts or taking them on exciting outings each time they are together.
Using children this way places an unfair burden on them. Kids usually want to please both parents and don’t want to have to choose between them. As a result, the children may feel guilty and stressed, and wonder if they’ll still be loved if they don’t take sides.
You and your ex can avoid these mistakes by setting down some rules for yourselves:
- If you don’t want to talk to your ex, get a friend to do it for you, or use e-mail or text messaging.
- Don’t argue with your ex in front of the children.
- Put your children’s needs before your own.
- Don’t complain about or try to turn children against the other parent.
- Find a friend or therapist to talk to. There’s no denying you need to get your feelings out, but make sure you’re doing it away from your kids.
- Show respect to your ex in front of your children, and insist that they always speak with respect to and about that parent.
Expecting too much responsibility
Some single parents lean on their children for emotional support. Sons and daughters may also be expected to take on responsibilities they may not be able to handle. For example, older siblings may be left to care for younger children.
Taking on duties at home can be good for kids. But too much responsibility can lead to the wrong results. If your children feel as though they can’t meet your expectations, they may develop feelings of inadequacy, which they can carry into adulthood. Kids need to enjoy childhood without having to take on their parents’ burdens. Give them the sense of security that comes from knowing you can and will take care of the family’s needs.
Being inconsistent about discipline
When divorced parents disagree about discipline, the children can suffer. Children whose parents set limits and discipline consistently and fairly are better off than those with harsh or sporadic actions or none at all.
If your ex does not make the same rules in his or her home that you do in yours, try having a talk about setting similar rules in both homes. Try to keep bedtimes and homework routines as well as behavioral expectations consistent in both houses. If you can’t agree, explain to your child that you expect your rules to be followed in your house. Talk to your ex about supporting one another’s efforts at discipline. For instance, if your ex takes away your child’s computer privileges for a week, follow through when your child is with you.
Happy parent/happy kids
Avoid the pitfalls that trip up so many divorced parents, and do it for your children’s sake. When you display bitterness, anger, and regret, your child will pick up on your unhappiness and will be affected by it. Do your best to make your life better. If you’re happy and productive, chances are your children will be, too.