Divorce stinks. It’s hard on all concerned, especially the children. What’s especially difficult is being emotionally available for your children when your ex-husband seems to be doing everything he can to make your life hard. Chances are he’s not, but it feels that way. How do you process your own feelings and keep the well-being of your children as your top priority? Here’s what I have learned, both from doing it wrong and doing it right. I use the pronoun “he”, but I know this can apply equally to female exes.
Children first, always.
No matter how much you are hurting, your children are hurting just as much if not more. They do not have the understanding you do about why this is happening to them. Consider the impact your actions will have on your children before you make a move. Keep them as far away from any argument or legal proceeding as you can. Depending on their age, getting them into therapy can’t hurt. I did this for my kids and I recommend it.
Take extraordinary care of yourself.
Being a single parent is hard, even if you now have your children less than full time. Use the time they are with the other parent to refuel yourself in every way, so that when they are with you they get your best. This will also help you to disengage with your ex if he’s acting out in anger.
Take Nothing Personally.
If your ex-husband or wife is angry that you are divorced, you are likely going to be experiencing some bad behavior. People are at their worst when they’re hurt, and your ex-partner is no exception. You can be shocked and hurt by his behavior, or you can recognize that it really isn’t about you. You have to communicate with him to parent your children. Separate out what is relevant from what isn’t, and respond to that only. Keep discussions that are not about kids separate, preferably by email until things cool down.
Never, ever badmouth the other parent in front of your children.
It doesn’t matter how awful he’s being, or how angry you are. Any unkind words about your ex-husband will hurt your children on multiple levels. It highlights the painful reality that love is gone. It makes them feel bad, because they came from the other parent just as much as they came from you. It hurts them because they love your ex, just as they love you. It puts pressure on them to question who they are loyal to. No child should have to make that choice. Don’t do it. Ever.
Show your ex-partner, by your actions, that your children’s relationship with him is important to you.
If he is trying to reach your child, ask your child to call. If there is a misunderstanding, talk with your child and help her sort it out with her dad. If Dad wants to have the children for a special occasion and it’s not his weekend, accommodate him if you can. This creates goodwill, and helps the children feel more at ease.
The more you are able to do these five things, the faster your family will heal. I know this from experience. When I forget even one of these difficult tasks, we experience a setback and everyone suffers. When I keep them all top of mind, everyone wins.
More from Elizabeth Danu:
How I Approach the Tough Topics with my Teenagers
How Losing at Love Can Hurt Your Heart
The Benefits of Giving Massage to Your Child