By Colleen Honquest
During divorce put the children first. Remember that they did not choose to have their lives interrupted and changed drastically. Children are innocent victims in divorce and can be further traumatized by the bad behavior of their parents. Reassure them constantly. This is not the time to lay blame with your spouse and be vocal to your children about who is at fault for the divorce. As Rosalind Sedaca, CDC and voice of Childcentereddivorce.com recommends, repeat these key phrases to your children:
“This is not your fault.”
“You are and always will remain safe.”
“Mom and Dad will always be your parents”
“Mom and Dad will always love you.”
“Things will work out okay.”
Tell the Children That the Divorce is not Their Fault
There’s a reason why, “This is not your fault”, is the first key phrase I quoted in my previous paragraph. Children sometimes internalize blame for their parents’ problems. They need assurance that their parents’ separation is due to issues between Mom and Dad. Not issues pertaining to the kids.
Remember That Your Children Are Not Communication Vehicles
I tell my clients that they can minimize stress on their children by not using their kids as messengers to tell your ex things that you feel they do wrong or opinions that you may have about their parenting style. Parents can help their children feel more relaxed when they are with them by saying things like, “When you are with Mommy, we focus on things that are happening here and that it is our time together. Unless you are fearful of something, I don’t want to talk about what goes on at your father’s house when you are with me.”
Form Your Support System
Therapy can be a helpful tool and gives you a place to vent with someone who is objective and trained to understand relationship conflict. Your friends and family members may be full of advice to give you but, oftentimes, it is based on biased feelings for you or someone else’s experience in the family court system who may have done all of the wrong things. Therapy is a safe and discreet environment for you to unload your emotional baggage and to learn ways to cope with your divorce. Your friends and family don’t want to be part of your divorce, but they do want to continue to be in your life. Keep your relationships healthy and use your time together with friends and family to focus on living a positive life and supporting your kids.
Minimize the Possibility of Going to Family Court by Exploring Divorce Alternatives
Stay out of family court, if at all possible. Your children will pick up on the fact that Mom and Dad are spending a lot of time and money in court and away from them. Try options such as mediation or collaborative divorce and work on working with these professionals to help guide you to work out the differences that you may have on parenting and finances. After all, 95% of all litigated divorce cases settle before going to trial. This means that there is a lot of wasted money, and quality family time wasted in court when you are going to end up settling in the end. Not to mention, college education money thrown away never to be recovered. Family Court also means the possibility of outside “experts” being dragged into your case. Guardian Ad Litems, Custody Evaluators and Parenting Coordinators who know nothing about your life or you as a parent will end up making decisions that will affect your children for the rest of their lives. The caveat to this last thought is that most of these “experts” have little to no mental health training but yet Judges, in Family Court, rely on them to determine parenting agreements.
Choosing to go to mediation or collaborative divorce also allows you to write your parenting agreement and your marital settlement agreement. You determine what is right for your children and your family. You choose. Not court-appointed professionals. Also, you can craft a clear and detailed parenting agreement that, if need be, is enforceable in court. If the agreement is vague or poorly worded, you will have years of turmoil and eventual court litigation as many changes occur as families move forward. People re-marry (new spouse for your ex means new opinions on your parenting), children get older, educational needs change and these agreements need specificity to account for these changes.
Your divorce can be less traumatic and your children can recover more quickly if you focus on maintaining control of your emotions, behavior and, most importantly, your divorce process.
Colleen Honquest, Divorce Mediator, High Conflict Divorce Expert and Certified Divorce Coach, CDC