With nearly one in two marriages heading for divorce, divorce is often considered ‘normal’ – yet anyone who has been through a divorce knows it is never normal, and never easy.
It’s hard enough saying goodbye to the person you once loved more than life itself, without completely losing your sense of self. But how on earth are you going to get your kids through this? How do you cope with the fall-out in your personal life, while keeping it together to be a strong parent for your children?
Make no mistake: they will be hurt. It will be tough, and I have no doubt you are going to make mistakes.
At times, your children will feel lost, angry and frustrated that their Mum and Dad can’t get it together for their sakes. And they will feel afraid about what lies ahead for them, and the people they care about. Yes, children are always the innocent victims of divorce, and the way you cope with this will have an impact on the rest of their lives.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you can get through this. And so will your kids. Because while the mainstream media regularly focuses on the negatives of relationship break-ups on children, there are positives too.
Children flourish in a home where they are content, safe and loved, even if that means splitting their time between two loving homes (or worst case scenario, spending most of their time with one parent who adores them). That’s even more true if you’ve left an abusive relationship. Taking your child away from fear and violence teaches that it’s not an acceptable way to live. Moving your child away from an unhappy home, and demonstrating the strength of character needed to find your own happiness, is also invaluable. Showing your child that Mums and Dads are individuals too, with the right to be happy, is priceless. Even if they don’t get it now, they will understand later.
As a parent, you must also keep children safe and make the decisions that are right for them. You have done a brave thing, the right thing, and one day, they will thank you for it.
Give yourself a break. Parenting is tough enough as it is, without finding more things to be guilty about! Of course, parenting as a separating or divorcing mum or dad is never going to be easy. For one thing, you’re going to have to continue to have a relationship of some sort with your Ex. Which is tough if he or she is trying to get back together with you, being completely unreasonable, or you just can’t stand the sight of each other.
My advice? Think of it as a business relationship. We all have to deal with people in business and life that we don’t necessarily get on with (or like). Try to keep things as business-like as possible. If you can get along with each other for the sake of your children, eventually time should help you build a different kind of relationship as parents, and maybe even a friendship as well. Many couples do manage to adapt to the change and become a solid parenting force – living apart but supporting each other as parents.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do:
- Reassure your children that you both still love them, that they are safe and you will still take care of them.
- Agree not to fight in front of the kids. If you must disagree, and you probably will, do it privately, or over the phone.
- Don’t put your partner down or use them as ammunition to hurt the other parent. Your child loves your partner, so by criticising him or her, you criticise them, and make them feel guilty and confused.
- Don’t rush into a new relationship (and if you must, don’t let the kids see you do it). Date on your own time, when children are safely with your Ex, and only introduce them when you know it’s serious.
- It’s okay if your children catch you crying. You can tell them you feel sad because you miss their Mum or Dad, or whatever the situation may be. And often, that’s a good time to ask your child how she or he is doing with all this. But if you’re always depressed, or unable to take care of the kids, seek help (try Lifeline or Relationships Australia for starters).
- Put your kids first. If your Ex won’t, talk to someone they respect, like a parent or close friend and see if they will intervene. Or see if he or she will go to family counselling.
- Talk to your child’s teachers and carers so they know what’s going on, and can take it into account. They can also be an invaluable source of information and advice on how to help your child through this.
- Consider counselling – for yourself, for your kids, or all of you.
- Often kids worry about the little things – like who will take them to school, can they still go to gymnastics, will they be able to see their friends? Taking care of all of the details with them can help them feel secure.
Increasingly, parenting alone doesn’t mean you can’t have the happy family you always dreamed of. In fact, once the hardship of the initial split is over, many people report that lone parenting is preferable to staying in an unhappy relationship.
- No matter how awful your Ex, and how difficult your split, you have living proof the liaison wasn’t a loss – you created a beautiful child or children, who will enrich your life.
- You now have the chance to find true love, while sharing a positive relationship with your child’s biological mum or dad.
- You can focus on your relationship with yourself and your kids, instead of also having to be a husband or wife.