In the popular imagination, divorce marks the end of a family, and the beginning of a long and painful struggle over finances, custody, and why the marriage ended in the first place. No doubt, a divorce is always tragic, but sometimes it is also necessary. Research consistently demonstrates that divorce is damaging to children, producing lower grades, more emotional, psychological, and behavioural issues, and an increased risk of substance abuse.
What many parents don’t know is that, while divorce is harmful, it’s the circumstances surrounding the divorce that compound the harm. Contentious custody battles, campaigns to alienate the children from one parent, and endless conflict all conspire to strain children’s resilience. If you’re getting divorced, here are five ways to minimize the damage.
Consider Family Counselling
If you’re still in the early stages and not really sure whether or not you want to get divorced, consider family counselling, which can help you decide whether divorce is the right choice for you and your family. Even if you’re already set on your decision, though, family counselling can help. Your counsellor will work with you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse to craft new ways of communicating and relating that work for your new relationship. You may even be able to hammer out the details of your child custody arrangement.
Share Custody of Your Children
Sure, you’re mad at your ex. Maybe you even hate him or her. But your children do not deserve to be punished for your ex’s mistakes. No matter how angry you are, and even if your ex is a less competent parent than you are, depriving your children of one parent is a recipe for disaster. Unless your ex is abusive and dangerous, with no willingness to change, your children need him or her in their life. Don’t embark on a campaign to kick out your child’s other parent, since doing so will exact an immense toll on your children’s welfare.
Don’t Badmouth the Other Parent
Half of your child comes from your ex, and your child knows this. When you tell him or her that your ex is bad, you are therefore telling your child he or she is bad. No child deserves to feel this way. Moreover, when you bash your ex to your child, you force your child to either accept what you say, or to fight with you—two losing prospects for most children. And if your child tells your ex what you say, your words could intensify the conflict and even land you in legal trouble.
Maintain Consistency and Routines
Children thrive on routines and consistency. This is especially true when their parents are going through a divorce. Stick to your children’s current routings as much as possible. Now is not the time to move or change schools, and it’s certainly not time to take your children away from family by prohibiting your in-laws from spending time with them. It’s a parent’s job to protect that which children love, even when the parent is struggling with the pain of a divorce. If you’re having trouble maintaining consistently, consider talking to a counsellor who can help keep you on track.
Don’t Rely on Your Children for Emotional Support
Divorces are so painful that many divorcing people contemplate suicide. One study found that divorce increases the vulnerability to suicide by 300%. You deserve emotional support, so seek it—from friends, from family, from a counsellor. But don’t lean on your children for emotional support, and especially not when it’s their reaction to the divorce that causes you pain. Children deserve to feel that their parents are strong and competent, and having to parent a parent is inevitably damaging to children’s self-esteem and sense of security.