One of the most insightful things I learned in university about divorce was that it is not dangerous or damaging to a child, but how we interact in front of a child makes the difference. As a child of divorce, I couldn’t agree more.
Divorce is a complicated time for families. This is particularly true for families of children with behavioral challenges. While you may be hurt or angry it is always important to remember that you still have one thing in common: you love and want the best for your child.
Successfully navigating your family through divorce takes a concerted effort on the part of both parents. While the cause of divorce varies, the ultimate goal should be to protect your child. When children are involved, your relationship with your ex will never end and remembering that throughout your formal divorce and after should help you keep a positive focus on your shared goals. These goals should include:
- Stabilize and protect both parents relationship with the child
- Support the child’s social and emotional development
- Avoid using the child as a divorce chess piece
- Speak positively about your co-parent in front of your child
- Continue to have positive, open dialogue with your ex about your child
[Related: Getting Through Divorce with your Finances Intact (members-only video)]
During a divorce, a common aspect that is lost between couples is trust, and the lack of trust can wreak havoc on future parenting decisions. As a couple, you should figure out how to rebuild trust to develop a positive, working relationship with your co-parent. Some opportunities include:
Regular phone calls
Establish weekly or bi-weekly discussions with your ex to discuss what happened over the week with your child and what is coming up. Consistent parenting begins with shared goals and opportunities. Consider taking these calls when your child isn’t around so disagreements can be worked through in private. It also offers an opportunity to explain your parenting decisions and provide appropriate background to your ex.
Speak directly with your ex about your concerns or frustrations. That is to say, avoid using your child as a spy. They are not here to feed information between you and your ex—they are here to develop into independent, productive adults. Asking your children for personal information about your ex places your children in awkward and uncomfortable situations that are unfair to all parties.
If you and your ex have particular hot-button issues, agree to not bring them up during your regular phone calls or when you are both around your child. Children can sense frustration from their parents but may not know why it exists, causing them to blame themselves or internalize their emotions.
Yes, the courts may have delegated visitation time between two parents, but major life events do not only happen during those determined time periods. Be supportive of your ex participating in the child’s activities outside of delegated visitation. It would mean a lot to your child for both parents to see them off at their first day of school, championship game or preschool graduation. Be open to sharing these times with your ex because it will mean even more to your child.
Recognize the positive
Your young child probably doesn’t understand your divorce, so don’t make it more difficult. Recognize the positive in your ex. What good do they bring to your child’s life? What can they give your child during these formative years that you may not? When you recognize the positives and appreciate them, it is easier for your child to relax and accept this new arrangement.
Divorce is hard, and having a negative relationship with your ex makes it even harder for your child. You should avoid blaming your ex for life circumstances or your child’s challenges. If your child is having behavioral challenges, it is even more imperative to have positive dialogue between parents. Your child will need both of you to be open, consistent and positive as they get older. Blaming your ex will not solve any problems but will very likely exacerbate them.
As parents, mistakes happen. Denying or deflecting them only damages your relationship with your ex and hurts your child. Admit any mistakes and work through them with your ex to learn and grow together.
This may seem pie-in-the-sky impractical, but it is your responsibility as a parent to make it happen. Your disagreements with your ex are your own and it is up to us, as adults, to rise above our differences and ensure a positive and supportive childhood for our children.