This question’s almost guaranteed to be pondered by every parent with children who is contemplating divorce. Don’t think that just because you try to “stick it out” for the kids that they will be happier. If you can’t figure out how to have a happy house, it’s not best for anybody. Kids know and feel the energy around them. Even if you aren’t fighting, your child can feel the tension.
What messes kids up is not feeling safe with their parents, not having a sense of security — in or out of the context of marriage. When parents aren’t being honest about what’s going on, kids get scared. They can’t trust your answers or their gut. Hence, they don’t feel safe or secure in their most important environment, the family unit.
Children of divorced parents have to learn to move between two worlds. They now have two houses, two bedrooms and may also have new people in their lives. It’s hard for kids to create boundaries and figure out what the rules are in these two different settings, and moreover, it’s not their job to do so. They may have two parents living in two separate houses, but they are still one family.
Parents often put their kids in the middle without realizing how it affects the kid. This isn’t just about fighting over them. Putting children in the middle also means asking children to keep secrets from their other parent, or questioning them about the other parent’s new life.
Kids should never have to worry about keeping things separate between the two households. Parents often make the mistake of telling their children, “You have two families now.” How is a 5-year-old supposed to handle that? They only have one family — the same parents and same siblings. This statement only increases their insecurity and threatens their sense of stability.
For the sake of their children, regardless of how they now feel about each other, divorced parents need to remain civil in the presence of their kids and share in their new life. Talk with each other; share your child’s activities. Show your kid by your actions that they still have one family and can move easily between households, with no boundaries, secrets or separate rules.
All too often, a parent will drop a kid off and never walk into the other parent’s new house, or even speak to their ex-partner. Your kid has two bedrooms now, and you’re only going to see one of them? Go inside your ex-spouse’s home with your child and see their new room. Be excited!
If there are new people living in your child’s other house, meet them too. Stepsiblings and stepparents are going to be prominent relationships in your child’s life, and it’s important for you to know them and share that connection as well.
Once you and your ex split, the tension is gone and the kids can breathe again. Living in two different houses with parents who are friendly or at least civil to each other is much easier on a child than living under one roof with parents who are constantly at each other’s throats.
Kids will appreciate two homes where Mommy and Daddy are separately happy, over one home where Mommy and Daddy are hurling insults at each other and using them as pawns in their mind games.
By divorcing from an unhappy marriage, you’re showing that you deserve to be in a supportive relationship and that’s the best thing you can model for your little ones.
Disclaimer: This advice does not apply if violence or sexual abuse issues are involved. Then the rules are different!
If you have any questions or comments on this topic, please feel free to add them below.