There is nothing more important than your kids during and after a divorce. It really is that simple. Everything you do, strive for, and settle on during the divorce should be in your kid's best interest. Your job is to be a good parent. You should make that very clear to your lawyer, and they should already be thinking along those lines anyway.
Divorce is a very traumatic event in any kid’s life. The most desired outcome is not to get divorced and live happily ever after. OK, I know all too well that doesn’t always happen. There are also marriages that people stay in that aren’t healthy for kids also. So if you find yourself in a divorce, make sure to make it as painless as possible for your kids.
1. First and foremost, love them unconditionally, even if they don’t reciprocate. They are going through a tough time, even if they aren’t showing it. Let them know you love them and will be there for them forever. Tell them and show them through your actions. Don’t over-do it, though. That will probably freak them out.
2. Try not to fight (verbally and of course never physically) with your soon-to-be ex in front of them. This will take some self-restraint, especially when your other crazy half is starting it and is saying and doing very crazy stuff. Leave the room, hopefully with your kids in tow. Let your soon-to-be ex be crazy by themselves. That goes for crazy in-laws also.
3. Let your kids be kids. Your kids want to continue their routines through all of this. Mine were teenagers, and their friends and activities were a very big part of their world. If your kid usually slept over at a friend’s house or spent time with them from time to time, let them continue that ritual. Even if that means you won’t see them as much as you would like to. Remember, you’re not all living together anymore and time is a precious commodity. That means you will probably have to sacrifice your free time, hobbies, or your work schedule. Sorry, but those all-day golf outings every weekend might have to be put on hold for a while.
4. Never make your kids choose between spending time with Mom or Dad! Kids are very keen to please the both of you. They don’t want to make either of you feel bad. Make sure it’s in writing when you have your kids. Be very particular and meticulous with this part. Let that be known to your lawyer. This should be very clear when one of you moves out. One example of not having all scenarios in writing was when my then-wife wanted to have the kids on Father’s Day because it was “her” day when we first broke up. What you think is common sense and a no-brainer sometimes isn’t.
5. Keep open lines of communication with your kids. Let them know you’re there for them and will help and support them any way you can. It may be a one-way conversation many times, but whatever you’re saying, they are absorbing.
6. Pay very close attention to them during this time and look for obvious signs of trouble: bad grades, being withdrawn, and big mood swings are just a few things to keep an eye out for. If you see signs of trouble, share them with your soon-to-be ex and ask if they see the same things. If you think your kids need help from a therapist or other professional, get it for them.
7. If you can, try to demonstrate (or at least give the illusion) that Mom and Dad don’t hate each other and can be civil towards each other. They obviously know that things are not OK, but try to make it as comfortable as possible for them. If there are sporting events, try to sit by each other. During school activities, you might actually have to sit next to each other, it won’t kill you. Your kids are noticing all of these things, even if you don’t think they are.
8. Do not give your kids any false hope that you will eventually get back together and there will be a big Disney happy ending. Shame on you Disney! I hate those movies. Be realistic and kind to them if they ask about any chance of all of this ending and all of you going back to the way it used to be. They need to cope with the fact that Mom and Dad are not going to live in the same house anymore, and they may eventually get married again to other people. Of course, you will have to consider the age and maturity level of your child when dealing with this. My kids had no false hopes of us reconciling. It was very obvious it was over. I do know some folks that weren’t as black and white about all of this, and it caused some trouble down the road.
9. Do not bad mouth your soon-to-be ex in front of your kids. It is very tempting to call your wife or husband all kinds of bad names and remind your kids of how much of a train wreck they might be. You have to remember that they are still Mom or Dad. Let your kids have their childhood, their naive outlook on life, and their parents for as long as possible. That also goes for grandparents, no matter how crazy they might be. Your kids will form their opinions when they get older, and the truth will come out eventually.
Love your kids and do what is in their best interest. Give your kids the tools to succeed, and never set your kids up for failure. You will make mistakes, but hopefully, you will learn from them how to be the best Mom or Dad you can be.