Don't make your kids feel like pawns, messengers, or casualties of your divorce.
In a perfect world, after divorce, your children would only know that life is more peaceful with two homes, and that they miss the parent they are not with. That's it. That's how it should go.
Co-parenting with your former partner is all about the children, not about your relationship with your ex.
Though it's not always easy, children need to know and feel that they are more important than any conflict that is — or, hopefully, was — between their parents. Making sure they feel that way is what effective, conscious co-parenting is all about.
When you co-parent well, you eliminate exposing the children to adult relationship issues.
They know mom and dad are not together and choose to live apart. Your job is to reassure them that you both love them and will do all you can to keep their lives as normal as possible.
No details required. Not only do they not need details about the split-up, but you risk jeopardizing their relationship with their other parent when you do share them. And, that's not fair to the kids!
They will have questions. Answer them in the most age-appropriate way (for their ages, not yours) to help them understand the most general issues. No specifics.
Children have enough upset to contend with when parents separate. It's enough to deal with moving, losing time with their friends, missing the non-custodial parent, feeling uncertain about what's going on, and not having the right things at the right house. These are kid concerns.
Children NEED NOT and SHOULD NOT be hearing about adult issues.
They should never hear one parent say anything negative about the other, directly or within earshot of the children. In California, every divorce settlement states that clearly. And, lawyers hearing that this happened can and will interpret this as parental alienation. And that's not good for anyone!
Whether or not divorcing was a shared decision or something that happened to you, it's what you're doing now. It's the reality. Not engaging your kids in the ongoing details of the conflict, the disappointments, or the anger is important. It's not easy, but you're an adult and that's what a wise adult who deeply cares about the well-being of the children would do.
Here are some clear goals to guide you through this. Read these often to help you stay focused on what is important:
1. I am the model I want my children to follow. Therefore, everything I do and say demonstrates who I want my children to strive towards becoming.
2. I communicate with my ex in the way I wish for him/her to communicate with me. I choose collaboration and conversation, over conflict and acrimony.
3. I focus on my children and what keeps them healthy — physically, mentally, and emotionally. That includes doing what is in their best interest first.
4. I turn my attention from what I don't like about my ex to what s/he does well for the children. It's about the kids, not what my personal issues are with my ex.
5. I allow my children to enjoy their childhood and ensure they're only concerned with age-appropriate thoughts, feelings, and actions. I protect them from beings pawns, messengers, or casualties of my divorce.
Being your best self can prove difficult when everything in you wants to blame, shame, and complain. I know. I've been divorced with children, too.
You may have deep resentments after years of a rocky marriage, or fresh scars that the divorce brought on. It can feel like your ex should pay dearly for it, and for a long time. Leave that to the court. You have to get your head on straight and do what is best for your kids. And ask for help to gain a healthier perspective on this right away.
No matter how frequently you have to remind yourself (and the difficulty of doing so), put the health and well-being of your children first.
That means your love for your children is stronger than the loathing of your partner and the divorce process. When you keep that top-of-mind, you'll eventually master successful co-parenting, and give your children the best emotional environment to thrive in. They deserve that. After all, they didn't ask for a divorce!
Need help with the co-parenting process? Divorcing a high-conflict person? Dr. Rhoberta Shaler, The Relationship Help Doctor, works with individuals and couples in high-conflict situations. You can schedule your appointment with her online at OptimizeCenter.com/join now. Meet via Skype from anywhere.