You have finally made the decision that you have been struggling with for what seems like an eternity. This is it. You are saying it out loud now. You are getting a divorce. I am sure you are like every other great parent and are thinking, how do I do this without screwing up my kid? Unlike the scene in Talladega Nights, most kids are not excitedly yelling “two Christmases!” when they hear their parents are getting a divorce. Here is what is important to kids (at any age) when their parents get divorced:
Can I still love BOTH of my parents?
- Yes, kids will prefer one parent over the other depending on what they want or are trying to do. You know how it goes, I ask my dad if I want to go somewhere and I ask my mom for money. But their relationship with each of you is separate and they need to be free to love each of you without listening to all the reasons you no longer love, like or respect their other parent.
How do we do holidays?
- What about my birthday? Holidays are very stressful for everyone and especially for children of divorced parents. To make it more complicated, if you have married and divorced other partners then your child has relationships with even more people. Just because you divorced their parent / step-parent, they did not. Your child may want to continue those relationships that you chose for him so it is your responsibility to help him continue those relationships even if you decide divorce is necessary. My best solution is – The More the Merrier! If there is not a physical safety concern, it would make things so much easier on your child to go to one Holiday dinner or one family birthday party. Then they have the day to enjoy their family members without trying not to eat too much so they can eat at the next holiday dinner the same day. They don’t have to worry about hurting your feelings or messing up your plans. And they can just be a kid who loves their parents.
Could I do anything to stop this or did I cause this?
- It is so important to be sure that your children know they did not cause your split and they certainly could not stop it. If possible, I think it is important to keep them out of it. Since they can’t control your decision, why don’t you just wait until the divorce is final and you have worked out all the details and then tell your child what is going to happen. They will have so many questions so the more answers you can have ready for them the more secure they will feel.
Can I share with you when I am upset with my other parent and not make it about you?
- When your ex upsets your child, it is important that your child can trust you to listen and support him without making it about you. Your child does not need more reasons to be upset with your ex. And, quite frankly your reasons for being upset with your ex should not be of any concern to your child even if you believe you have been done wrong. Even if you are right. What is important is will you guide your child through how to deal with his feelings and come up with solutions about his relationship with his other parent, just as you would help him if he was struggling with a relationship with a friend.
Can we still do things as a family?
- Whether you want to or not, it is best for your child if the answer to this is yes. Remember, this is about your child. Are you really going to make her have two separate parties and make her chose which friends to invite to which party? She is not going to have two proms or two weddings so it is probably best if you can figure out how to get along just long enough for your child to have great experiences with her family as much as possible. What your child is really asking you to please don’t make her choose and help her not stress about something she had no control over in the first place.
Will my rules be different at each parent’s house?
- I get that you are divorcing for a reason. You probably don’t agree on much anymore. Can you please spend time agreeing on what the rules in your homes will be for your kids? It is very confusing when your child is allowed to play Grand Theft Auto at your house but not at his dad’s house. It is also confusing if you do not allow him to drink or get high but his dad does. Again, it does not matter what your personal thoughts and views are anymore, can you agree on rules and guidelines for your child so that he can be clear? Rules and structure is especially important right now. And, just to be clear, drinking and drug use during teen years increases the risk of substance use disorder by four times.
Your decision to divorce was not taken lightly. It was probably a long time coming and the reason you stayed as long as you did is most likely because of the kids. I know some of the indecision about divorce was related to the fear of the unknown. The best way to calm the fear is to have solutions and structure which provides a sense of security.