By: Diane Meehl, Guest Blogger & Mother of three
Falling in love is so easy. Sustaining it amidst the pressures of raising a family, building security and swerving the curveballs life throws at you - now that’s hard. I can truly understand why so many marriages end in divorce.
Full disclosure here – I’m still married – but as the child of divorced parents, I have a keen memory of our struggles. It’s no easy task to help children understand the adult dynamics of the people they love most. But you can mitigate the effects of their pain, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice. Easier said then done – I get it!
Times have changed, and today I’m heartened to see so much sensitivity toward kids of divorce in the new era of shared parenting. I see plenty of divorced couples and remarried spouses sitting side-by-side, cheering at games and recitals. It might take time, and I imagine this act of solidarity requires courage and sacrifice. But it’s what every kid of a divorced family longs for - to continue to experience the connection of their fractured family unit.
You might have to clench your teeth, but it’s worth it.
Trust me – when your kids are grown, they’ll remember the efforts you make. By prioritizing their feelings, you do much to heal the rift in their sense of security. I believe helping them to thrive alleviates your own struggles with guilt and sorrow, too. You can create a different kind of family life than the one your children knew – one that still respects and honors the legacy you created together.
This is how some of my friends help their children heal, grow, and move forward from divorce in this week’s, “Tips from the Trenches:”
1. Spend quality time together. One divorced couple I know has dinner together one night each week with their children, without their new significant others. I want to give these people a medal for their selflessness, and for their respective partners, too.
2. Respect your ex-spouse in front of the children. Ok - I realize this is as easy as getting a toddler to perform his latest trick for Grandma. But this one’s a biggie – a child can feel shame when a parent is put down. Refrain from disparaging your ex-spouse in front of the kids. If your tongue bleeds when you bite it, treat yourself to a ridiculously fattening treat afterward. You earned it!
3. During holidays, make certain your kids get gifts for your ex. Children are so perceptive, and they will notice (and feel guilty) if mommy or daddy has no gifts on Valentine’s Day from them. Spare them the guilt and shame, and help them choose something sweet. (Even if your ex-spouse doesn’t return the favor. Think of it as a gift for the kids, not for your ex.)
Keep the visits to extended family going. I remember my own grandparents grieving when my parents divorced. They, too, felt the loss of the family unit they knew. Make it a habit to keep the connections strong with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. They can provide children with a sense of structure and stability.
Encourage a warm relationship with a new spouse or partner. I applaud my friends who take time before introducing anyone new into their children’s lives. I also think it’s good for kids to see their parents dating, because it removes their worry that a parent is sad or lonely. Also - it is an art form to serve as a present, caring stepparent. The ones that respect the child’s parent while serving as a loving friend and mentor deserve hero status in my book!
Divorce is tough on everyone. But I know that children can survive and thrive these enormous changes when their parents prioritize their children’s feelings. Bear in mind that someday, they’ll look back with adult eyes. Make sure your kids know you put their interests first as much as possible. (You don’t have to tell them about the teeth – clenching!)