Divorce is tough on kids.
That is as simple as I can put what in Family Law is an axiom. The security and fundamental stability of an intact household (even one that is mildly dysfunctional) is no longer divorce may manifest itself in myriad ways, even stoicism. Whether the stress of divorce on your child is or is not clearly articulated or demonstrated by your child, know that it is there.
Here are some suggested ways to make it easier on your children and ease the tension.
- One of the best ways to counteract the insecurity that a recent or pending divorce delivers to children is for the opposite parent to bolster respect for the other parent, thereby demonstrating that although the marriage has reached an endpoint, co-parenting continues – the message is that although two parents are no longer under one roof, they remain a parental and family unit to the children. This gives children safe harbor in which to continue to be children and to not have to accelerate the maturing process because they have to grapple with more adult issues before they are developmentally prepared to do so. This is not to suggest mollycoddling children by pretending there is no actual divorce. A departure from the reality of the situation can be as detrimental to children as parents undermining one another in the presence of the children.
- Mother’s Day and Father’s Day give divorced or divorcing parents an opportunity to demonstrate that the safe harbors of co-parenting remain intact, despite the divorce. On the other parent’s day (or mutually in the case of same-sex marriage), plan for the children to contact, or better yet, share some time with the other parent on his or her “day.” Help the children but, or better yet, with young children, make a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day card for the other parent. Participate in the card selection or encourage making the card.
- Don’t go overboard with gifts for the other parent. A divorced or divorcing parent does not want to give the children the impression that they have something “to make up for” to the other parent. This is not intended to become an exercise in contrition or penance but an opportunity to show the children of divorced or divorcing parents that their parents can put aside their differences in order to celebrate the parental status of the other parent, for their special day, or at least a part of it.
- Keep it simple. Make it safer for their children by spending a little time with their other parent on their special day and sending a note of appreciation for them as their mom or dad.
- Don’t celebrate the other parent’s day together. My opinion is to avoid this altogether because it may either come across as forced or it may confuse the children. Remember, the intent is not to cover or conceal the fact of divorce but to foster the knowledge in the children of the marriage that divorce does not mean that the parents cannot or will not continue to co-parent the children. This is also an opportunity for the children to feel safe expressing love and affection for the one parent in the presence of the other parent – the importance of which cannot be overstated.
There is a saying, “When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” It’s a metaphor I often used to remind myself and my clients of one simple notion.