7 Key Tips For Managing Parental Guilt In Tough Divorce & Custody Battles

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father and daughter hugging outside

As any parent knows, from the moment your kids are born, you spend most of your waking hours hoping nothing bad will happen to them.

During a split, you see pain and confusion in their eyes — a situation so unjust that you want to flog yourself. They ask the inevitable questions that flood you with parental guilt: “If you love us so much, then why did you and Mommy break up?”

The answers you come up with are so maddeningly useless, you can’t stand hearing yourself talk, and it does nothing to help assuage the guilt eating you up inside.

Friends quote you the divorce rate, and remind you that you aren’t the first or the last couple to break up.

RELATED: 4 Things All Kids Desperately Need From Their Parents During Divorce

Parental guilt is a normal response when going through divorce.

People who have gone through a breakup tell you, “Don’t worry, you get used to not seeing your kids every day.” You want to punch these people in the nose.

Others who are less prone to sugarcoating things tell you their son or daughter barely spoke to them for a couple of years after their divorce, but then over time, things started to improve. You want to punch these people, too.

Nothing salves the guilt. You carry it around day and night.

As soon as you sign the papers dissolving your marriage, parental guilt sets in. And it may linger for a long time, especially after a tough divorce where custody was a point of contention.

During the separation period, you saw the pain and confusion in your children’s eyes, especially when they would ask questions that you couldn’t really explain.

And don’t forget the little hints they would drop when your family outings seemed normal, like, “Wasn’t this so much fun? We can be a family again."

Now that the divorce is permanent, guilt seems to overtake you. Not because the “happily ever after” is no longer a reality, but you worry that your child’s life will somehow be different (or maybe in your mind, worse) because the divorce has occurred.

Since half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, this situation naturally casts a long shadow over American families, and it’s inevitable that parental guilt follows.

An important part of navigating this part of the journey is to make sense of — and figure out how to process — the guilt that threatens to overcome you when dealing with taking care of your children, whether if you are the primary caregiver or the secondary parent.

Since divorce is something no parent ever plans for or can control, how you handle it when it comes is something that can help in managing parental guilt.

RELATED: This Is What It Feels Like For Your Child When You Divorce

Here are 7 ways to lessen parental guilt surrounding divorce and custody battles.

1. Be on the same page when it comes to the kids.

This is very important. You want to work out the logistics of co-parenting with your partner as soon as possible in order to avoid chaos.

The list includes:

  • Where the children will be living once the parents are no longer living together. 
  • What the plan is for finding a new home for the parent who is moving out
  • What the schedule will be for the children to spend time with each parent.

Don’t expect to get it right in the beginning. There will be trial and error. By being transparent, it will make the transition smoother.

2. Live close to your children.

Based on budgetary concerns and the routine of your children, it might be beneficial to live close to your kids, or even the same house, if boundaries can be managed properly.

3. Plan events together.

Special events, not just around holidays, can help the kids feel normal.

4. Maintain mutual respect.

If one or both of you are still angry and resentful showing it in front of the kids is not the place. Having respect for your partner and establishing effective communication strategies will go a long way.

5. Acknowledge your child's voice, too.

Invite them to share their feelings, but don’t demand. Let your kids know that if they need other resources to talk about their feelings, they are available.

If kids start to act out as a way to express their emotions, let them know that's not cool, and that they will be held accountable.

6. Seek out a parental coach or class.

Especially if you feel overwhelmed. This can help you overcome pent-up anger and procrastination, as well as other obstacles that keep you from moving forward.

7. Have a strong support system.

The demands a tough divorce make on your time can also drain your energy, and can impact your social connections. That doesn’t mean you should abandon any social connections.

Try and connect with old friends who you knew before your marriage, or find new ones through meetup groups that may share some of the same experiences.

In the end, you want to assure your kids that sometimes divorce happens, and it is not always someone’s fault. The marriage just ended.

It is sad, sometimes painful, and is going to mean big changes for everyone, but it does not mean their life can’t be close to normal as possible.

Establishing a way to co-parent without parental guilt can do a lot to keep that sense of normalcy in place.

RELATED: 15 Things I Wish Someone Told Me About My First Year Of Divorce

Keith Dent is a certified empowerment coach by The Institute for Professional Empowerment Coaching (IPEC). He has 10 years’ experience and is the author of In the Paint – How to Win at the Game of Love. Contact Coach Keith for a free consultation.