You or your spouse may be moving out of the family house, but that doesn’t mean that either of you are moving out of your children’s lives. And it’s important to let your children know that you are still their parent every minute of every day, and not just on alternate weekends. This means following the same good parenting guidelines you’ve practiced all along: communicating, being a positive influence, and maintaining boundaries to keep your kids feeling secure and loved.
Communication is key, and it includes communication between you and your kids and with your ex. Being present means being available for contact, whether by phone, email, or in person. If your child is old enough, consider purchasing them a mobile phone. You can even restrict it to only family numbers if necessary. Communication is a two-way street, though, so don’t forget to make some calls, emails, or text messages yourself, even if only to say “Hi, I love you and I hope you’re having a good day.”
When you tell your child, “You can reach me at any time,” it’s important to mean it. If you can’t commit to availability for professional or other reasons, let your child know when they can talk to you or how soon you will reply to a message. Above all, be honest about your availability and hold yourself to that agreement. During a divorce is one of the worst possible times to break a promise or drop the ball on something.
Practicing good communication skills also involves your former partner. You probably already know all the rules of etiquette: no negative comments about the ex-spouse, ever. Remember what your parents and teachers told you: if you can’t say anything nice, bite your tongue. When the urge for an angry or judgmental remark arises, practice saying something like, “Your mother/father loves you very much, and we’re all doing the best we can right now.”
Do not pass messages back and forth to your ex through your children. These messages can cause confusion and breed resentment. Even if you feel like they are being unreasonable, treat your ex like a colleague, and be professional but pleasant. You will have to work with this person for many years to come.
No matter how bad you feel, try to keep a positive attitude in front of your children. If you don’t think you can pull it off, restrict contact and talk to a counselor about your feelings. Your kids need to feel that their parents are still in control and able to take care of them. The divorce is not their fault, and hearing about your grief, anger, or pain can make it hard for them to handle their own. They have enough of that on their shoulders without having to bear your emotional burden as well.
Just as they did throughout every stage of growing up, your children will test their boundaries at this time. Like all rules for young children, they need to know that there are solid, reliable rules in place to keep them safe. Don’t abandon your long-standing rules now; treat outrageous behavior and pleas for attention the same way you would have when you were in the same household. This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with your kids or indulge in an occasional treat; it simply means that letting unacceptable behavior or manipulation pass without gently guiding your child back to what’s appropriate for the situation can lead to larger issues if given the chance to evolve. Help your children get through this difficult experience with love and support instead of ignoring any distasteful demands for attention.
Some parents find that they are actually more involved in their children’s lives after a divorce than they were when they lived under the same roof. Many parents no longer take the time spent together for granted, and exchanges with their kids are more involved because they’ve both been saving up for their precious moments together. You can learn quite a bit about your child’s dreams and goals for the future and play a key role in helping to achieve them when all your focus is on your child during your time together.