I think everyone would agree that there is always a negative impact on our kids in the event of a divorce. They really are not getting what they want or what they need. However, it is naive to believe that separations and divorce will stop happening in our society overnight. Facing reality is necessary if we are going to protect our children from the tragedy of “being in the middle”. Worse than having your parents divorce is to be caught up in the middle of your parents failed relationship.
Five Important Things to do with your spouse to keep your kids best interest first:
- Communicate with the children together. Agree in advance what you will communicate and both parents participate in the communication and show support when the other is communicating. It is so difficult for kids to see their parents fight, but it is even more damaging if they do not see a united front in this very important communication. It isn’t fair for the kids to hear your side and then your spouses side and have to discern what is correct. It is painful to hear that your parents are divorcing even if they are sharing the communication and being respectful of each other. It is devastating when they see their parents fighting, blaming, and justifying. You owe it to your children to tell them together why their parents are not going to stay together and to assure them that NO MATTER WHAT it isn’t because of them and that both of you love them tremendously.
- Be as consistent as possible in following the custody and visitation orders. Always be cooperative with your spouse about seeing the kids or working out shared custody. Kids feel unstable when they are first faced with their parents separation. It is very important for their lives to be as structured as possible. They should no what to expect and it should happen as promised. Trust is shaky at this time with your kids. It is heartbreaking to them if you do not pick them up as agreed. It may just be logistics to you, but to them terrible ideas like you don’t want them or don’t want to spend time with them occurs. Now is a time to be as predictable and responsible as you can. Make sure that these children know that even though their parents are not staying married they still have two parents that they can depend on and who love them.
- Do not communicate to each other through the kids unless it is something benign like “Tell your Dad I packed an extra uniform for you.” Communicating through your kids because you do not want to talk to your spouse is inappropriate. It adds responsibility to the children for you and it puts them in a position to be directly in the middle.
- Continue to support your spouse in childrearing and discipline issues. You are both still the parents. It is difficult enough today raising kids and reminding them that you are the parents and that they are not in charge. When the parents drop the united front the kids see opportunity to get what they want. Unfortunately, they don’t always really know what they want and more rarely know what they need. Although it may be subconscious, children will begin to use the divorce as a way to make you feel guilty and give in to their desires and demands. You may feel guilty for getting divorced but don’t double the problem by letting them think that you and your spouse are not still solidly in charge of them. Even if you don’t agree with your spouse, discuss it with him/her, not with your child. Show the kids that you support the other parent.
- Try to keep your emotions regarding the divorce in check as much as possible around your kids. I am not suggesting to be celebrating. That will offend them too. But, again the kids are not responsible for taking care of you in your divorce. Telling them you are sad and wished things were different is one thing, but, not being in control of your emotions around your kids brings them in the middle. If they see you express uncontrolled anger they feel caught in the middle like they should be mad too. Or guilty if they aren’t mad at what you are angry about. If they see you sobbing out of control or depressed to the point of not functioning, they will want desperately to help you feel better and feel responsible if they can’t fix it.
I know some of you may be thinking,
- “but what if I am fine with all of these strategies but my spouse won’t cooperate?”
- “how can I control myself if I’m devastated myself?”
I know this is the case many times. I suggest you get help with a Christian counselor. All you can do is your part. Try to get your spouse to go with you to a counselor to discuss how to tell the kids and how to work together to keep your kids as stable as possible. It is hard to do it all right ourselves because we are emotional and too close to the situation. If your spouse won’t come, then you should still get help. You will need the encouragement and discernment of an unbiased person to help you maintain your end of being respectful, consistent and cooperative.
I work with people all of the time in this situation and I really do know how hard it is, especially with an uncooperative spouse. But your kids need it! They are innocent and they are so important. And, if your kids are stable it will also make it easier on you. When everyone is out of control it is damaging all around.
I don’t want to leave this post without also reminding you to turn to God for strength, encouragement and help. Seek God, pray, be obedient to His Word. Remember and be thankful that he is a loving God, full of mercy and grace. He is the best counselor of all!