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Divorce: Ten Guidelines for Divorced Parents

Jim Fay


Part 2: Divorce: The Classic Struggle of Divorced Parents

Telling Your Kids You are Getting Divorced

What is more important? When you tell your kids about an impending divorce or how you tell your kids? Being overly apologetic and concerned can indicate a guilty feeling. Many kids take advantage of guilt-ridden adults. What can sounding guilty subtly say? If it weren’t for my problems, you wouldn’t be acting this way, so you have every reason to complain, treat me with disrespect, and behave inappropriately. Wise parents admit their humanness, but are not overly apologetic.

Here are some other basic things to keep in mind when talking with your children about the impending divorce:

1.       Do not blame one parent or the other

If the child starts crying, it’s okay to hug them and hold them. A lot doesn’t need to be said. If the parents handle the situation calmly and factually, the kids probably will too.

2.       Do not be overly optimistic or cheerful

Don’t put a nice spin on everything, while stressing there could be exciting benefits: getting to see new places, meeting new people, helping to pick out pictures for a parent’s new apartment, etc.

Ten Guidelines for Divorced Parents

When parents get divorced, the casualty list includes the kids too. They may experience mood swings, defensiveness about being touched, general problems with schoolwork, lack of interest, and laziness.

Fortunately, such behavior is often part of a normal grieving process and can be alleviated by following these ten guidelines for divorced or divorcing parents. Remember that there is no way to make it good for the kids. In their eyes divorce is a disaster. The following guidelines are offered as a way to make a bad situation a little better.

1.       Expect kids to handle the divorce as well as the adults handle it.

The tone set by the divorce will go a long way in helping kids handle it. If the divorce is bitter, lacks in communication and filled with anger, the kids will most likely behave in the same way. Model the behavior you want to see from your kids.

2.       Let the kids know that the divorce is not their fault.

Some kids feel their parents’ divorce is their fault. Some kids think, “If I had been a better kid, my parents would still be together.” Let your kids know the divorce is not their fault and both of you still love them.

3.       Be honest about feelings and observations.

Speaking negatively about the ex-spouse backfires. Parents need to tell their kids, without giving details, how they feel about their ex-spouse and why. Allowing for the other parent’s point of view in the discussion is of equal importance. Above all else, your kids should know both parents still love them.

4.       Understand your kids’ misbehavior without excusing it.

Kids should be encouraged to express how they feel. However, parents should continue to give consequences for misbehavior and disrespect.

5.       Give children a support group.

Much like adults, kids need to have supportive people around them. Having someone outside of the family for your kids to talk to about the divorce is a good idea. Some parents have school counselors, teachers, peer groups or friends of the family be the people their child can talk with.

6.       Post-divorce counseling for parents and children may help.

Counseling is never a bad idea. When communication is sparse or poor and distrust is high between the parents, counseling for the parents and kids can go a long way in making improvements.

7.       Remain available without prying.

We’ve all given answers people want to hear at times. Kids are no different. Being available for your kids to talk is a great way to keep communication open and honest. Parents must have the attitude of “Tell me your thoughts. I can handle them,” when communicating with their children.

8.       Handle issues directly with the ex-spouse.

Never give kids messages for the ex-spouse. If there is something you need to communicate to your ex-spouse, you should contact them directly.

9.       Kids need moms and dads.

Should you remarry, encourage your kids to call their stepparent “Mom” or “Dad.” Kids won’t forget who the “real” parent is.

10.   The birth parent must back the stepparent in discipline completely.

Should you remarry, you must let your kids know, that your new spouse is a lifetime partner.

For more information about building a positive relationship between the stepparent and your kids, you can read our blog post Stepparenting: Seven Stepping Stones of Trust and Stepparenting: Every Relationship is Different.

Divorce can certainly take a toll on everyone involved. To hear more suggestions, listen to the audio Love and Logic: Keys to Helping Kids Cope with Divorce.

Part 2: Divorce: The Classic Struggle of Divorced Parents

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