Divorce. I have experienced it.
I am a father of five – three boys with my first wife and two children with my current wife of over 20 years. I am also a therapist who has worked with hundreds of parents and children after divorce and can attest to the fact that the way a family “does” divorce determines what longer lasting effects the divorce will have, especially on the children.
Setting Aside Our Hurts Is Not Easy
Going through my divorce was the most difficult experience that I have had to go through in my life. It took everything I had and more to rise above the devastation, the hurt, the grief, and sadness to ensure that I minimize the damaging effects this would have on my three children. I prayed to God daily for strength.
From my own personal experience, I know divorce is not only emotionally overwhelming, it is a life-altering experience. Which is why you will need a support system: a Catholic therapist, a support group, good friends, priest/spiritual director.
Whichever combination you choose for yourself, having a good support system should help in attaining two important objectives –
(1) Creating a safe place for venting (especially away from your child).
(2) Help you find constructive ways to cope with the turbulence of the divorce in a healthy manner for your own welfare as well as your child’s.
For a time, the emotional baggage that comes along with divorce can be an obstacle to the parent’s ability to co-parent. The need to set aside those hurts remains critical in one’s ability to co-parent in a way that minimizes the emotionality and focus on what’s best for the child.
Both parents need to filter all their words and actions through the question; “How will this impact/affect my child?”
What’s Best for Your Child:
- Keep the children out of the middle!
Do not use your child as a messenger in making decisions or plans. Do not use your child to get information about the other parent. Even a simple “How’s your mom/dad doing?” can be emotionally harmful for some children.
- Do not disclose any potentially harmful information to your children.
Especially in an attempt to negatively influence their feelings towards the other parent. It will come back upon you!
- Do treat and speak about the other parent respectfully.
When possible work together with your ex-spouse towards compromise and cooperation and flexibility. It’s important that your children see those skills and attributes, key life lessons they will learn from you! Your children need to see that in spite of what happened, mom and dad can still work together and be respectful.
- Do include the other parent in decision making and plans.
Doctor visits, making major decisions (i.e. braces), and other things. I have found this to be a big challenge for many of the couples I see. Not including the other parent in these matters builds resentment and animosity, sometimes even leading the couple back to court for an issue that could have been solved on their own.
- Do speak to your children together with your ex-spouse.
If possible, when dealing with issues that involve the kids, speak with them together including how you tell the kids about divorcing – it makes a huge difference. Hearing two different viewpoints is confusing and in a sense falls under the category of being put in the middle. Never put them in a position to have to choose sides.
- A final Do – Pray
Pray for the strength to do what is right and fair (that was a prayer I prayed constantly). Pray for your children for strength and courage. Pray for your ex-spouse too!
Divorce is traumatic and it WILL influence your children in many different ways. However, they can mature into emotionally stable adults. It all depends greatly on how you as their parent “do” divorce. I am grateful that our adult boys and grandchildren can experience my ex-wife and I together at our family gatherings, soccer games, etc. Knowing they sense the respect and care we can still have for one another years later despite being divorced makes all the work it took to get there truly worthwhile!
- Co-Parenting after Divorce: What’s Best for Your Child - August 3, 2017
- Dad to Dad: Success at Home - June 16, 2016
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