If you’re divorced, your interactions with your ex-spouse teach your children a lot about adult relationships. What sort of lessons do you want them to learn?
If you want your kiddos to grow up with healthy attitudes, you can take many lessons in what not to do from my folks. I don’t want to slam them too harshly, because I know they did the best they could with the tools they had at the time. However, if you’re reading this, it’s because you want to become a better parent. Here’s what I learned, and how you can make it work for your family, too.
Rule #1: Don’t Badmouth the Other Parent
As a co-parent, you need to put your children’s needs first. Plus, do you remember that old saying about how what you say reflects more on you than it does the other party? Your children will eventually form independent opinions of both of you as parents, and you don’t want them to remember you as the trash-talker.
Badmouthing the other parent puts your child in the uncomfortable position of feeling like they have to choose sides, something no youngster should have to do. This conflict can lead to considerable psychological distress. Worse, you risk having your kiddo start to resent you for making them feel like the rope in a tug-of-war.
Rule #2: Maintain Routine Communication and Schedules
If little Johnny has a doctor’s appointment after school, who is responsible for making sure he gets there on time? Where will your kids spend the holidays and weekends? Children need consistency, and even if you despise your ex, this requires communication on your part.
Strive to keep all communication as businesslike as possible. Pretend you’re investigating like Sargeant Friday presumably did — just the facts, ma’am. Stay organized by creating a master calendar to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. There’s an app for that these days.
Also, for the sake of your child’s mental health, remain open to compromise. Yes, maybe it is your weekend to have the kids. However, if it’s the only weekend a T-Rex skeleton is on display and you have no interest in paleontology, let the other parent take your tyke to see the exhibit. Remember, your kiddo’s needs come first.
Rule #3: Don’t Use Your Kids as Messengers
The obvious reason to avoid using the littles as messengers is that they don’t always keep their facts straight. However, more can go wrong than a missed parent-teacher conference due to miscommunication. Some co-parents use their kiddos to spy on the other — mine did.
Whenever I returned from my dad’s, my mom would grill me about who he was dating, if anyone. It’s one thing to ask your child how their time went with the other parent, but when you start inquiring about their love life, you’re crossing the line. Besides, depending on the age of your children, they may not understand much about adult relationships.
Rule #4: They’re Not Therapists, Either
This advice should go without saying, but please, don’t lean on your children for psychological support the way my mom did to me. First of all, I don’t know any 5-year-old Dr. Phils. Furthermore, your kids are already dealing with a whirlwind of emotions from the split. Dumping your feelings on them and expecting them to support you, not vice versa, sets up an unnatural dynamic. It can even lead to your child becoming codependent in future relationships, as they feel they have to become a caretaker to deserve love.
Rule #5: Don’t Try to Buy Their Love
Some divorced parents try to overcompensate for the pain their children feel from the divorce by buying them expensive toys. However, this practice causes resentment if the other parent lacks the financial resources to give into cries of “gimme.” Also, material things don’t fill the hole.
Instead of buying your kids more toys to “make up” for getting divorced, spend more time with them instead. You’ll make memories that last a lifetime, and your child will treasure the added attention. After all, most kids’ biggest fear after the split isn’t that that you’ll no longer buy them the basics. It’s abandonment — they worry if you stopped loving the other parent, maybe you’ll stop loving them, too. Time together can help alleviate this fear.
Rule #6: Care for Your Mental Health
You are dealing with many challenging emotions. You need to manage them if you want to be the best parent you can be, so seek the help of a qualified therapist in the aftermath of your split. Even if you don’t feel like you need professional help, take time for self-care every week. When the kiddos are with the other parent, take a relaxing bubble bath or get involved in volunteer activities with friends.
Become a Better Co-Parent by Avoiding the Mistakes of Others
My parents broke every one of the rules above. While I lament the hardships I endured, the lessons taught me to be a better parent. Learn from the mistakes my folks made if you and your child’s other parent decide to part ways.