Divorce is emotionally tolling, especially when children are involved. Children tend to feel a sense of loss on both sides, a loss of stability, and they have to divide up everything in life that was once shared with both parents. It is very common for both parents and children to go through the stages of grief and loss when processing a divorce or separation. The stages of grief and loss are:
- Adults may feel: “This can’t be happening” or “This is the best thing ever”.
- Children tend to feel: “My parents can’t be hurting each other and me” and “This has to be temporary”.
- Adults tend to feel: “How could they do this?” or “Betrayal!” or “I still have to put up with you!”
- Children often feel: “How could they do this to me? If they loved me, they would stay together.”
- In this stage of grief and loss, both may try to make a deal with the opposite parent or child. This might include making promises that are unrealistic or agreeing to change a behavior if life could go back to the way it was before the divorce or separation.
- In this stage, sadness sets in. Parents and children will both feel: “Will I ever feel better about the situation?”
- The stage of acceptance provides the feeling that “Life is different now” and “Life can be good and still be different.”
- Improvement from children and/or parents. Making progress since the separation.
During the divorce or separation process, kids all seem to have one thing in common, wondering if the divorce was their fault. Most of the time kids want to rewind time and have life go back to the way it was before. It is important to respond to a child’s questions with limited information without placing blame on anyone, including the other parent. Be sure to acknowledge their feelings and explain it is not their fault.
Cooperative Co-parenting includes:
- Working together
- More consistency between homes
- More flexibility for children and parents
- Major decisions made together
- Smoother transitions for children
- Parents are able to be involved in their child’s life and are kept better informed
- Children enjoy having both parents at events without tension
- Parents are BFFs because communication is:
Co-parenting mistakes to avoid:
- Negatively comparing a child or children to the other parent
- Criticizing other parent or their loved ones
- Using the child or children to deliver messages or spy on other parent
- Pumping the child for info about the other parent
- Arguing in front of the child or children
- Punishing child for wanting time with the other parent
- Making child choose which parent to see
- Withholding children from family (including extended family/significant others)
- Telling children adult feelings/problems
Tips for Successful Co-parenting Communication:
- Promptly share info and details
- Communicate with specifics
- Listen without interruption
- Only talk about the children
Do your best to support your children during this confusing time. Promote the child having time with the other parent, even if the other parent isn’t perfect or the child is anxious. Give your child permission to love the other parent and all their other family, friends, or significant other without concern that they’ll hurt your feelings or get in trouble. Remind children that both parents will always love them and take care of them and include all children equally and treat them similarly, especially in blended families. Studies show exposure to conflict is the most harmful act for a child’s well-being in the present, as well as for into the future. Your behavior will impact the child’s ability to experience healthy future relationships.