My parents divorced when I was about 10 and my sister was four. As far as divorces go, we had a pretty good time of it; both of my parents were around all the time and there was no child support/alimony involved. That being said, there are still some tips I’d like to give to those parents that suddenly find themselves co-parenting their children with someone they no longer love/mildly hate.
Don’t badmouth your ex (at least not in front of your kids).
Whether you are amicable, terse, or not on speaking terms, you have to remember that your ex is still your child’s parent. As a kid, when my dad would badmouth my mom or vice versa, I A) wouldn’t know what to make of it because I was too young to know that I should take what they were saying with a grain of salt and B) wouldn’t know what to say because I wanted to make both of my parents happy. I’ve really seen this go south, especially for my 14-year-old sister who now isn’t even going over to our mom’s house anymore. It never helped to know any of the dirt they dished. These facts should’ve been stuff they decided to share with us at an older age, or not at all. My parents are good people, but they chose to tattle on each other rather than focusing on the present. And it hurt to realize so soon that my parents weren’t superheroes.
Don’t use your kids as a substitute for a spouse.
I know that sounds weird, but it happened to me. Suddenly, my parents (who had been married for 12 years) were single, and they had no one to talk to. So they started sharing things with me like the state of our finances. I remember my dad told me things were tight, and I didn’t ask for the $25 for my sixth grade yearbook. When I told him later on, he laughed and said things were never that tight. An 11-year-old doesn’t understand things like that. It’s okay to tell your kid “No, we can’t afford that right now,” but don’t give them a run-down of your whole financial situation. They don’t need that kind of stress on top of dealing with the aftermath of your divorce. In the same way that you shouldn’t badmouth your ex in front of your kids, you have to remember who you’re talking to.
Don’t bribe your kids.
This isn’t a battle, you don’t have to win them over. It’s easy to want to be “the good guy,” the one who takes the kids for ice cream and a movie, and then drops them back off at home. But then one of you has to deal with hyped-up children. I remember one year I wanted a digital camera for my birthday and my mom said that she would get my grandma and nana to pitch in and get me one. When I told my dad, he scoffed and drove me straight to Walmart to buy one. Let me tell you right now: I didn’t feel more affection for my father because of it. All I cared about was that I got a camera. But when my mom found out, I felt guilty and she felt inadequate. No one wins that way.
Don’t undermine your ex.
This is where the “Mom said no, so I’ll go ask Dad” goes to a whole other level. Smart kids will learn to manipulate the divorce to their advantage. The older they are, the more likely they are to do it. I’ve seen my sister do it loads of times. She weighs her options. If our mom is offering a barbecue and our dad is offering Six Flags, all previous commitments aside, you can bet she’s gonna be on Batman by noon. One time she even got mad at our mom and called our dad to come pick her up in the middle of the night. And he did. Our mom woke up the next morning and found her gone. She panicked. And what did my sister learn? That she could get away with anything. Though you may not be on the same life team anymore, you and your ex are still on the same parenting team. The end goal: to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children.
Don’t ruin big events by bickering.
I can think of approximately two events in my life where my parents deigned to be at the same place: my high school graduation and my wedding. They weren’t even in the hospital together when my daughter was born. They used to trade off going to my chorus concerts so they didn’t have to see each other. Sure, it wasn’t that bad, but as a kid it felt like they didn’t care enough about me to put aside their differences for one night. Things like chorus concerts and little league games might seem like something you have to drudge through, but to your kid it’s a big deal.
If you have more than one child, make one-on-one time with each of them.
This is something you’ll probably forget about if you’re not careful. I know that if you only get your kids every other weekend, it’s hard to find time to spend alone with just one of them, but trust me–it’s important. Because your kids aren’t around you all the time, they want your attention when you are. And if they have to vie for it with their siblings, tensions can run high. Having a day just for the two of you can help alleviate a lot of that. Going to lunch and then shopping with my mom, just the two of us, once a month, made me feel so much more connected to her. I never felt like she was the “absent” parent.
Don’t go easy on your kids.
It’s easy to fall into guilt about splitting up your family, but trust me: your kids are happier now that you’re happier. I remember hearing my parents fight and I can tell you everything was better after that stopped. So even though life has changed forever, you can’t try and sugarcoat it for your kids with a heaping dose of leniency. They still need rules and discipline, or else they are going to go out into the world as spoiled, self-indulgent brats. This is especially important because it is also much easier for your children to sneak things past you now that there is only one parent in the house at a time. My dad is a contractor and sometimes doesn’t get home from work until eight o’clock. This is a prime opportunity for my sister to sneak out, have boys over, etc. Letting your kids know that such behavior won’t be tolerated on a regular basis will help put notions like that out of their minds.
I know that’s a lot of “Don’ts” to remember, but it’ll be worth it. In short, just try to go on with life as if things hadn’t changed–except you’re totally free to date now. (But that’s a whole different issue for your kids to deal with!)
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