How to successfully support your children after your divorce. A 12 weeks program for divorced parents.
Week 4 - Concerning the Children
This week we give practical guidance to how to manage the physical and emotional changes our children go through. The suggestions and tips are based on experiences from professional counselors and coaches.
You can take these suggestions and try them for yourself. Of course, you can adapt them to the situation of your children. We will guide you through the most relevant aspects, with quite a few tips, do's and don'ts.
How to Tell the Children.
How you tell the children about your divorce and what to tell them has a significant impact on your children in the short run and in the long run.
The leavee and the leaver have different perspectives. The leavee usually feels pain, betrayel and frustration. This will influence the leavee's attitude and emotions when announcing the divorce. The leaver on the other hand, may feel relieved. This results in an opposite perspective.
When telling your children about the divorce, you and your ex have the first opportunity to act as a parenting team in a constructive way. It is important that you both realize what the effects of the emotions of both the leaver and the leavee are. Set your emotions aside and focus on what is important for your children.
Most children believe a divorce of their parents will be devastating. To counterbalance this negative belief, you should add in some positive aspects. You can see the divorce as a learning experience for them. Of course there are many negative feelings about a divorce, but every new situation creates new opportunities as well.
Your own responses and your attitude from the very beginning largely contribute to how they will feel about the divorce. If you demonstrate acceptance, your children will accept the divorce easier. If you display resistance, your children will resist too. The consequences are not only related to the sad event of the divorce, but it will set the tone for other traumatic happenings in their life.
The key of telling about the divorce to your children is to stay away from the blame game.Blaming leads to unpleasant discussion with your ex and might turn to fighting. You and your ex will loose respect in the eyes of your children. Worse, it invites your children to choose for one of you. It stands between you and your ex. It makes collaboration and operating as a parenting team very difficult when you keep fighting and disagreeing.
Have as many conversations with your children as you can about the subject. Try to give one message in each conversation. Not more. Of course you can answer questions about less related subjects, but keep your answers short. Keep your focus on the key message of the conversation.
The first conversation should be about how the family structure will change. Be clear that the parenting continues as usual. Let them know that they are the most valuable to you. Assure them that they are not to blame for the divorce. It is not their fault. Repeat it if you think it is necessary. Also in a later stage: it is not their fault. They cannot break the marriage and they cannot fix it either.
Your motives, what the daily consequences are for them, how routines will change, where you and them are going to live is not to be discussed during the first conversation, but only at a later stage.
Emotions kick in unexpectedly. Be careful to show your emotions, how you show them and when. If you seem to be broken, devastated from the divorce, there is a big change that your emotions will reflect on them. Strong emotions from one of both of the parents make your children feel to make a choice for one of you.
FAQ 1: Do we tell them togher?
The best way to tell your children is together. There is one but: only do it together if you can tell without blaming each other. As explained before, blaming results into disagreeing and fighting.
FAQ 2: What do we say?
Say as it is. Something like: "we will not be living together in the same house anymore". Stick to the facts and do not tell an emotional story. That will only confuse them. The focus must be on your children and not on you. Tell them what the consequences are for their daily life.
FAQ 3: My ex does not want to tell the reason to the children, but I do.
Telling the reason of your divorce to your children is tricky. I'll explain why. Telling the reason of your divorce implies fingerpointing. You are only able to tell from your own perspective. You might think you know exactly why you divorce, but you do not want to tell your ex because your ex does not tell it properly in your eyes. A reason usually comes out as an excuse. As a parenting team, you make the best start by not telling the reason of your divorce.
There is only one exception: if you divorce because of abuse, be it physical or mental of you or your children, you should tell the children about it. In this case, they have to know.
Day to day care.
Day to day care is about the everyday stuff in your home. It is about having breakfast, about going to bed at a fixed time, dressing and preparing them for school. Routines are discussed in the next section. Routines are about weekly schedules and change of home.
Of course are your children sad because of the divorce, but they don't want to be bothered with all the practicalities and inconveniences of their divorces parents. They simply want their daily activities to continue undisturbed. A clear daily schedule brings structure to their life.
Stick to it as much as possible. If not, the children will become confused and they will feel less capable to make their own daily choices. Without enough structure, your children may start to feel fed up. Good day to day care makes the children to expect great things from life. It provides them with the predictability and stability from where they can start to play, to experiment and to learn.
Your children will cross borders. They have to learn what is acceptable, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. This understanding become the values of the family.All kind of small and not so small daily events, the reactions of you and of your children to those events, behaviour and attitudes and discussions and conversations slowly shape the culture of your family.
Next to structure, there needs to be room for flexibility. Surprises will bring joy and stimulate creativity. You start by giving the example. After a while, your children will come back and surprise you.
FAQ 1: My ex calls my children more than once a day and it is disruptive.
Your children propably do not have the need to talk to their non-present parent every day. Children have a out of sight out of mind mentality. It is not that they do not like the parent that is not present, but they live in their own world. In their daily routine. And they need time for themselves.
Especially in the beginning, just after the divorce, it is important to stay in touch. But after a few week, the frequency should reduce. Your children need to feel secure that they can reach you when needed. When they need it. Not you.
If one of the parents has an absolute need to talk to the children on a daily basis, you can work out a solution. For example by agreeing on a time at which it disrupts the day to day care the least. For example just before dinner. If you start dinner at a fixed time, it is a natural moment to end the call.
A natural consequence of your break-up is that you cannot see and talk to your children any more on a daily basis. Accept it and move on.
FAQ 2: The ex wants me to do activities with the children, but he does not,
Activities are very important for your children. It keeps them away from the passivity of watching tv. It stimulates their curiosity and creativity. They face new situations and challenges. They will experience fun and excitement, difficulties and deception. They will meet new people.
So, do as many activities with them as possible. You will be limited by time and by money. If your ex finds it important and forces you to do more than what is within your possibilties, you have to discuss the situation together. If he or she finds something really important for your children, but he/she does not make the time available to do it himself/herself, apparently it cannot be that important.
When discussing the activities, focus on your strength and those of your ex. Not on the weaknesses. Be creative in dividing the tasks and the activities. Perhaps you prefer scouting and your ex enjoys going with the children to music lessons, make the obvious choice.
FAQ 3: I want to be at home with the children until they go to school.
When you were happily married, your partner might have agreed with you that you stay at home to take care of the children. After the divorce, your partner might change ideas. The answer on the question depends very much on your possibilities. Do you have the means to do it? Does your ex want to contribute? If you need to work to support you and your family, your options are few. These days, it is possible to work from home. More and more people do. If your profession or the company you work for do not allow working from home, you could consider a change. Maybe you do have other options too.
Routines are about when you or your ex take care of the children. How many days do the children spend with you? Which day will they switch home? There are many routines, but it is hard to say which is the best. To find a good routine, look at the new circumstances.
Sometimes, routines are negotiated by the leavee to restrict the leaver and to make life difficult. Unfortunately, such arrangements seem to be normal.
When deciding on a routine, you could place the well being of the family in the center of the discussion. Not only the children, but the interests of both parents should be taken into consideration.
The routine should facilitate a predictable and easy life for the children. They deserve to enjoy both homes. Moving back and forth from one home to the other every x days or weeks is not easy for them. But the routine should enable the childen to gain control over their own lives.
Some divorced couples give their children the freedom of choice. Their children can choose when they are in which home. Today or tomorrow with dad, but the next week with mum. This is not advisable though. It gives the children to possibility to walk away from discipline and structure. The parents will be limited to correct unwanted behaviour.
FAQ 1: What is the best routine?
As explained before, the best routine is where the family is at the center: everybody wins. In all other cases, there are winners, but loosers too. Try putting the children first: both parents will come short. The routine needs to be tailored to the family situation, taking each individual situation into consideration. When the children get older or when the personal situation of one of the parents changes, the routine needs to be re-evaluated.
The key elements of a good routine are:
- The children have frequent contact with both parents
- They spend a reasonable period at each home
- The time between changeovers should not be too long
- Flexibility regarding unexpected events
FAQ 2: One or two homes for the children?
Your children should be at home at both places. Home should not be so much as a physical place, the house or the appartment, but their mental home. A place where they are at comfort, where they can be themselves, where they feel understood, respected, safe, happy and be taken care off. So, yes, they deserve to have 2 homes.
FAQ 3: Do the children stay together or do they split up?
Sometimes chldren are split up. A typical example is where the boy stays with the father and the daughter with the mother.
Siblings get along much better when they grow up together. Children that stay together create a much better family bond. That is important for the short term but also for in their adulthood.
Children also need one-to-one time with their parents. It is good to build this into the routine.
FAQ 4: Do I allow my teen to move in with my ex?
The answer is dependent of the situation. What is the reason why your teen wants to move in with your ex?
Why should you not let your child experiencing living with your ex if your teen can benefit from the situation? Are you willing to let your teen go? Does it contribute to the family?
On the other hand, if moving out is to walk away from a problem, from a difficult relationship in the family, think twice. In this case, it is better to fix the root cause.
Friends and Family.
Friends and family are supposed to be there for you if you need them the most. In case of a divorce, you will find out that you will not only separate from your partner, but also from some friends and family. Your in-law family will probably choose the side of your ex partner.
You will continue to see the parents of your ex, because they are the grand parents of your children. Every now and then they will visit the children or they invite the children to spend time with them. In some occasions your relationship with your in law parents is very good and continues to be so after your divorce.
But, despite all good willing, there are occasions at which it becomes difficult. Suppose you are invited for a christmas dinner by your in law parents. They like you and you like them, as well as the brothers and sisters of your ex. However, at such an event, your in-law parents will also invite your ex. What do you do?
Most people have a weakness for the leavee. That is the poor person that has been abandoned. The leaver is the one who will loose more friends. In the eyes of the friends and people around a divorcing couple, the person that leaves, usually gets most of the blame.
Close friends but also people that you do not know very well give you all kind of unwanted advice and comments. With the intention to support you, they make statements like "I have always thought that he or she was not the ideal partner for you". It is very likely that such a statement has a negative effect on you, instead of being helpful.
You and your family need a lot of support after the divorce. You have your emotions to deal with, but also with a long list of practicalities that must be arranged in a short time. Decisions must be taken. Things must get done. You can ask your friends to help you. Do not expect them to do it spontaneously, but give them explicit tasks to do. For example: get the children from school on Wednesday afternoon, and keep them busy until 6 o'clock.
FAQ 1: How to stop the gossip?
As said earlier, your friends and family will be affected by the divorce too. It gives them the opportunity to express their opinion about your marriage, the relationship, you, your ex, about your divorce, how damaging it will be for your children and much more.
You will be very emotional after the divorce and you probably need to talk about it quite a lot. Don't. Seek somebody you trust to share your emotions and feelings with, but avoid talking about your divorce and all the bad stuff that is related to it with the other people around you and with your friends.
If you keep talking about it and you complain all the time about your ex partner, the small place you live in after the divorce and the problems you have with money, your friends will keep asking and your divorce will become the standard subject to talk about.
If you continue, your friends will back away from you. So stop talking about the subject and do not complain. That will gain you respect. Of course you can answer questions, but stick to the facts and don't hang on to the subject for long.
FAQ 2: My in-law family are my friends. What will happen?
Of course, they will continue spending time with your children. That is good for the children and for your long term relationship with them. Because they like you, the divorce is exta difficult for them too.
They need time to get used to the new reality, so keep at a distance for a while. If they see you are working on your future and on the future of your children in a positive way and that you accept the situation, you will gain respect.
FAQ 3: Friends take sides. What do I do?
When friends take sides, things are getting dirty. Most people have experienced a divorce themselves or they know somebody close by who had a dirty divorce. They will tell you about all the possible negative consequences and they will warn you for all the mistakes that can be made.
No matter if they start blaming and fingerpointing your ex or yourself. It does not help you. Do not apologize. Be careful not to be put into a defensive situation.
You can guide them away from the fingerpointing. Ask them to take a job in the parenting team, so they can be of real help. If they do not want to help or if they keep on playing the blame game, go and spend your time and energy with those who do support you and your family.
A good work-life balance is important. But the definition of a good work - life balance is different for everyone. Some consider work as an evil necessity. Others adore their work and just cannot get enough of it. Their work is their life. After the divorce, it is very probable that both parents need to work. They just need to work for to earn an income. As a natural consequence, there is less time for the familiy left.
Children do understand this concept, but what you exactly do at work is something from outside their own world of understanding. They see it as something that is competing with them to get time and attention from their parents. Especially if the children were used to one of the parents being at home, this is a big change for them.
FAQ 1: What do I do when the children are sick?
The best option is to agree with your ex and with your employer or with your customers on beforehand. In many cases of divorce however, one of the partners does not want to collaborate for many different reasons. If your partner does not want to help out, accept it and find a solution yourself.
FAQ 2: Staying at home or working?
If you can afford it and if you want it, you can stay at home for the children. But going to work has advantages too. If your chldren see that you enjoy working and you show a positive attitude towards work, it will reflect on them. They will start regarding work as positive, something that energizes instead of something that drags energy from you. They implicitly learn to understand the intrinsic value of working and the satisfaction one can get from contributing.
FAQ 3: The children do not like it at all when you are leaving to work.
If your children are really suffering from you being away at work, it is time for a change of your routine. Be creative and adapt them. Change is an absolute must if the situation makes the children anxious. It is not easy to change your working hours or your working place, but remember: your children grow up faster than you think and it happens only once.
Some simple suggestions are to reduce the working hours or to work from home.
FAQ 4: Parenting reduces my options at work and my ex does not compensate.
To say it straight away: this is the natural consequence of your divorce. It usually means that you will have less money to spend and that you have less time to spend with your children. Again, accept your situation and stop comparing with before the divorce. Lay out your options and consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of them.
What are the advantages for your family and what will your family give you in return?
To learn more about Concerning the Children, please read the book:
Do you want to read more about the subjects covered in this article?
Please read the book:
by Jill Darcey.How to Successfully Co-Parent after Divorce
Next week: Changing Tack in Parenting 1:
Where do you stand as a parent and when? Before your child, aside, behind or nowhere?
Go to the Home page of Children and Divorce