Divorce is such a complicated process, and there is so much emotion that needs to be sorted through. Putting your children’s needs ahead of your own isn’t easy, and parents constantly have to check in with themselves to make sure they are doing so. Many parents also think “children are resilient” and they are not really affected by their parents’ divorce.
As a family lawyer, my advice to all my clients who have children is to get them into counseling with an experienced counselor who can let the parents know how the children are doing and also help the parents see how their behavior is affecting the children. Counseling for the parents isn’t a bad idea either.
Here’s a list of my top ten tips to help you be the best parent possible during this time. Since many parents are unaware of how their actions impact their children, these tips will raise your awareness to help you keep your focus on their needs.
1. Remember that parents do not “visit” with their children. Children of divorce and their parents still live together, no matter how short or long a time they spend together. The language each one of you uses about the schedule can sometimes be problematic. Be sensitive to this.
2. Save negotiations and discussions with the other parent for a time when the children are not around and cannot overhear.
3. Learn how to communicate directly and respectfully with the other parent. Do not ask the children to carry messages to the other parent. They should not be in the middle of any of your disputes or be responsible for your communication.
4. Enjoy the time you have with your children. You can only do this well and enjoy parenting if you aren’t obsessing about the time you don’t have with them.
5. Allow and encourage your children to have fun and enjoy being with the other parent. Remember that it’s important for your children’s normal emotional and psychological development to have a good relationship with both parents, regardless of where they live.
6. Say nice things about the other parent in front of the child. Making derogatory or disparaging remarks about the other parent is hurtful to the child and will often backfire on you. It is best to allow children of divorce to decide for themselves what kind of relationship they will have with each of their parents.
7. Assure your children that you and their other parent are taking care of them and will work out the details of their schedule. Never ask them where they want to live or whom they like better.
8. Always speak to the other parent in a civil, respectful way. If the conversation gets to the point where you are unable to do this, then end the conversation and take it up another time when things have calmed down.
9. Be flexible with schedule changes. Remember, your children benefit from seeing the two of you being cooperative, especially when it comes to taking care of their needs.
10. Always keep your promises to your children. This sends a powerful message to them that they can trust you and can have confidence that you are there for them.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Graceful Divorce Solutions, A Comprehensive and Proactive Guide to Saving you Time, Money, and Your Sanity (Balboa Press, 2014). M. Marcy Jones is an author, speaker, lawyer, and advocate for change. She has practiced family law since 1995, and is a settlement expert and conflict resolution advocate, specializing in collaborative practice.