- Don’t force your children to take ‘sides’.
When you are divorcing or are divorced it can be really hard to try not to involve your children in your divorce and sometimes it can seem like they are siding with your ex-spouse. However, when you get divorced the most important thing your children needs to know and to be reassured is that YOU still love them. And the most important rule for parents is, NEVER moan or complain about your ex to them or blame them for what has happened in front of your children. And DON’T use them as a go between.
Even if your children seem very grown up and mature, they are not the grown-ups; you are, you are their parents and you have a responsibility to act like it. Whatever the excuse, you had a horrible divorce, he/she cheated, or you live far away, make time to speak to your ex even if it’s just to discuss arrangements. If you really can’t speak to them face to face, e-mail them. Build a solid and reasonably pleasant relationship as co-parents, not as ex’s, because you took the decision to have a child and you have a responsibility to raise that child and ensure they have the best start in life.
Building a solid relationship and an open dialogue with your ex is really important. I’m not saying you have to be friends or even like each other, just decide to put your differences aside and have an open channel of conversation about your children. In the future this will be really important, particularly for negotiating things like parents evenings, and if there are any worries or problems you have. For example, if you’ve noticed that your child seems withdrawn and more down than usual, talk to them and the other parent ask them if they’ve noticed the same thing if they have any notion as to why your child might be like this. It’s these channels of communication which will enable the best possible divorced parents situation for your child.
2. Your time is not ‘your’ time.
If you have shared custody or visiting rights or even just an arrangement that your children visit you or spend a certain amount of time with you, unless there are extreme circumstances do not try and enforce this time rigidly on your children, particularly if they are teenagers. Teenagers are fickle and unfortunately a lot of the time they don’t need their parents as much, especially when they are trying to be cool or as they spend more time with their friends/girlfriend/boyfriend. This can be hard enough when you live with your child but if you share custody or have them to visit, it can be particularly difficult as you feel you are rejected in favour of the other parent who sees them nearly all of the time.
However, it is nothing personal and if your child drops you on a Saturday in favor of going out with their friends, or goes out in the evening when it was always ‘family time’, or your time together trying to force them to spend time with you or being rigid with your custody time will not endear you to them. Try to be flexible and show them that you are willing to rearrange and that you are there for them even if you don’t live with them. For example, if your sixteen year old wants to go out to the cinema with her friends on a Saturday night and traditionally that was something you would do together, don’t tell them you won’t allow them to because it’s your time together. Instead, you could offer to pick them up and say its fine but ask them to make sure that they spend the next Saturday night with you instead. Or organize special events with them. For example, offer to take them camping or to the beach, or take them to the theatre if they are studying a play for their exams.
Also, just because they are at your house it doesn’t mean you both have to stay in together and spend all your time together; allow them to go out with friends if there are any nearby or allow them to go out on their own, or encourage them to take a class or get them a gym membership. This shows them that you care about them and that they are very much part of your life and have permanent roots with you even though they don’t live there all the time. Make sure you listen to the little details in their lives to show them that you really do care about them and then adjust your timetable accordingly.
3. Do not try to ‘outdo’ your spouse.
It may seem like the obvious solution, particularly if you are the parent with more money, to try and buy your kids love with lots of presents or fun trips or by trying to be the ‘cooler’ parent. Obviously, if you and you ex have different parenting styles, now that you are divorced you no longer have to do what the other one wants, but be respectful of each other. Try and sit down and come up with some basic rules, which are important to maintain, whilst your children are at the other one’s house. For example, with a fourteen year old, if mum says she should be in bed by ten o’clock on a school night and she is staying at Dad’s for the weekend and he lets her stay up all Sunday night watching TV and eating junk food, who’s the parent who’s going to have a child who is tired and grumpy the next day and who probably won’t be able to focus on school. Treating your children in this way will not do them any favours in the long run. What you have to think about is not what is going to make the child love you more and therefore punish/beat/show up your ex, but what is best for your child in the long run. Try to continue parenting as you would if you were still with your ex. If in doubt stop and ask yourself the question, if I was still with (my ex) would I still be allowing them to do this?
Photo Credit: Lasse Kristensen