When going through a divorce, parents ALWAYS tell me, “I want my kids to get through this with as little pain and anxiety as possible.” Without fail. Every time. They just have no idea how to do this.
Parents have these huge motivators, and they work so hard to keep them top-of-mind while working through Collaborative Divorce. Try though they might, parents don’t always get it right during this super tough time! Here are the top five Parenting Pitfalls I see during a divorce.
1. Argue in front of the kids, or where the kids can hear them.
Children are incredibly perceptive. Your children are designed to watch you for signs of stress or danger, to learn how to respond to the world. This means that they’re highly attuned to your emotional state.
When you argue with their other parent in front of them, it makes them feel as though they’re being torn apart. It gives them a huge amount of stress that’s just not theirs to carry. It impacts their mood, their ability to think clearly, their sense of safety…
If you and their other parent have a disagreement, you need to work out. It is ideal if you can reserve that to take place during a time that neither of you have the children – perhaps when they’re at school. This will give you plenty of time to cool off afterwards, so you can be your best parenting self when you see the kids next! However, if that’s not possible, make sure that you have the conversation out of earshot and eyeshot of the children at the very least.
2. Talk about the divorce (or adult level details) with the kids.
Your kids are just that – kids. They don’t understand the complexities of what’s going on in your divorce with their other parent. They also aren’t equipped to help you carry the stress of whatever is going on.
Good news, though – this is what friends (or therapists) are for! If you need to talk through the tough stuff, please do it – just do it with another adult.
3. Ignore the other parent or sit on opposite sides of the room during activities.
If at all possible, sit in proximity with your child’s other parent. Celebrate your kiddo together! Enjoy their activities. Make it easy for your child to visit with both of you after the activity or event.
This is a way you can show your child that they are more important than whatever argument you have going on with their other parent at the moment.
4. Ask too many questions about their time at the other parent’s house.
This one seems a little bit counter-intuitive. When you pick up your child from their other parent’s house, it is completely normal to ask questions to reconnect. Questions like, “Did you have fun?” or statements like “It’s so good to see you!” are completely appropriate and helpful to reconnect with your kiddo after some time apart.
However, it can be a slippery slope to “What did you do at your (mom’s/dad’s) house? Did you guys eat fast food? Did they cook anything for you? Did they leave you home alone? Did they have anyone over? What time did you go to bed?”
It’s really important to remember that they have two homes, both of you (parents) need the room to parent in your own home.
This one is all about striking a balance. Just think: “Am I trying to find out details that will make me angry? Or am I trying to reconnect?”
5. Being inflexible about parenting time.
Let’s say the kids are supposed to be with you tonight, but your oldest daughter has been asked to go to a sleepover by her best friend. Before you react defensively and respond with “ugh I get so little time with you as it is! Can’t you just do that when you’re staying with your (mom/dad)?”
Think about things from your child’s perspective. A response like this can make them feel like a possession being passed from house to house.
Consider instead: have a conversation with your co-parent. Ask about shifting the parenting schedule a few hours earlier that day so you can have a bit more face-to-face time with your kiddo before they go to their friend’s for the night. Just remember that your child is their own person, and they’re going to develop relationships with friends of their own – and this is good! We want that!
Try to keep in mind your biggest goals.
- “I want my kids to feel supported and cared for.”
- “I want them to know that they’re loved by both of us”
- “I hope my kids feel like it’s okay enjoy their time with both of us.”
If you keep these goals at the center of your interactions and your responses, you will be in good shape.
Now what happens when you mess one of these up?
We’ve all had a bad day, snapped, and responded to our loved ones in ways we’re not proud of. The best thing we can do – go back and repair the relationship. It sounds a lot like this:
“Chloe I was thinking and I’ve realized that it probably didn’t feel very good when I sat on the other side of the room from your dad at basketball. I’m sorry about that, and I’ll remember next time. I love you and I want you to feel supported at your games.”
“Ben, I’m sorry if it felt like I was drilling you for details about your time at mom’s. I didn’t mean to do that, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re being put in the middle. I’ll tone it down next time. I’m sorry.”
You cannot imagine how powerful these “repairing” relationships are for our kids. So hang in there, do your best. When you slip up, ask for forgiveness and try again next time. You’ve got this.