“We are getting a divorce.”
Many kids hear that sentence at some point, and their world as they know it gets rocked forever.
Maybe you’re considering divorce but you wonder if your children’s lives will be ruined? Not necessarily. Listen up, as you have a big part in this.
A wise mentor of mine told me the words that I have repeated over and over again through the years of working with folks who are divorcing: Your kids will learn the definition of divorce from you. They will experience the divorce in whatever way you give it to them — it’s up to you to decide what that process looks like.
Let’s see what this can look like. A couple with two young kids decides to divorce and ends up battling in and out of court for the next eight years. They spend lots of hard-earned money only to end up unable to talk with each other. And their children are put in the middle of two parents who can’t stop fighting.
In another scenario, the parents have two kids and manage the divorce themselves, go to mediation or participate in a collaborative divorce process. Their divorce is final within a year, they spend a moderate amount of their money and end up able to co-parent well together.
Which scenario would you pick if you were a kid and your parents are divorcing? It’s a no-brainer.
The fact is, kids know when their parents can’t stand each other. They see the glares across the auditorium at their band performance. They feel it at their baseball games when one parent won’t come if the new spouse is there. They absorb the tension when their parents can’t even say “hi” to each other.
How would you feel if this was you? I’d feel stressed, sad, angry and anxious, to name a few. These kids grow up knowing that their parents despise each other, and they are at a higher risk for acting out in ways that none of us wants our kids to do.
Of course, there are situations in which you have every right to be angry with your ex. However, if you have children, you need to figure out how to parent with this person until your kids turn 18 and beyond.
Ideally — and as cliché as it sounds — for the sake of the children, divorced parents can still talk politely with each other. They may chat at back-to-school night or gather together for birthday celebrations.
For those of you who can’t even look at your ex, you might be rolling your eyes, thinking I’m making this stuff up. I’m not. It happens. You don’t have to be best friends raising kids together; consider yourselves as more like business associates.
Remember, your kids can’t simply google the meaning of the word divorce, they have to live it; and that experience is up to you to define. None of us can do divorce perfectly, but your kids can thrive even through tough times if you are mindful and compassionate.
— Valerie Frankel, MFT, is a licensed therapist in private practice who lives in Davis with her family. Her column is published monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org