Divorcing with kids: they come first

I know how hard it is to separate. Your whole world crumbles down and you’re left standing, bleeding over the ruins. Wow! That’s how bad I felt when I realized my marriage was over. You’re heartbroken, sad and lost, but you’re still a parent and, let me tell you, it’s even harder for your kids. They don’t understand how their parents don’t love each other anymore. And on top of that, they probably feel guilty and think the parents will stop loving them also. On top of this, they can’t really put in words what’s happening to them, so basically they need you both a lot. I’m not saying don’t take care of yourself, that’s coming next week btw, I’m saying pay attention to your kids and remember that they’re in pain also.

I have always been an advocate for many different types of families. There’s the family we’re born into, the family we choose with our friends, the family we marry into, or enter when we have very close friends, etc. There’s families with one parent, with two moms, two dads, and so on. The perfect family of four, is just a fiction. I know this to be true now. The problem is that the alternative families do not enjoy of the same status and privilege in our society. All this to say that you are now a new family of two parents living separate and providing for their kids that will probably live in two different houses every other week. Also, if you haven’t separated yet, be aware that there are many ways of doing this: maybe you keep one house and the parent come and go instead of the kids, or you and your ex decide to stay in the same house, with different rooms and have your romantic relationships outside. There’s not one solution, there are as many solutions as you can think of and if it works for your family, go right ahead. Don’t be afraid of what others might say or think.

I know there’s nothing simple about divorce but here are some tips to help you figure out your next steps with your kids:

  1. Keep it simple, and explain to them what happens, don’t hide it from them. It depends how old your kids are, but I still recommend that you explain to them what’s happening. Of course, do it at at their level: be age appropriate with your explanation.
  2. Extremely important: tell them it’s not them, it’s you and your spouse that have decide the marriage is over and you will have two houses, or whatever arrangement you’ll have from now on. One thing parents are good at saying but not doing is tell them it’s ok to be sad and then be sad with them. You’re all in pain and avoiding showing it is not going to make it go away. If anything, they’ll be wondering why you’re not sad.
  3. Pain is unavoidable, manage it by listening to them and being there for them. But also remember you can still have fun with them. I know this, because my kids were young and after explaining to them what was happening, they said can we go play now? And it was ok. And even when I was very sad and emotional, I would take some time to play and have fun with them because it wasn’t the end of the world, it was the end of our marriage and the beginning of a new family. So allow yourself to laugh also, even if inside you’re still sad.
  4. Your kids are not weapons, don’t use them against each other. Sadly, this one is very hard for some parents. They find that using the kids to hurt the other parent is acceptable and very often do it without realizing how bad it is. Even if I understand that the competition between parents is tough and we all fall into it sometimes, we have to keep reminding ourselves that they didn’t ask for this, they are along for the ride but are not responsible for what’s happening. As you start your new life and shared custody, avoid sending messages to the other parent through them or don’t grill them with questions about the other house just to know what is he’s doing or if he’s met someone new. They’re dealing with their own problems and challenges.
  5. Spend some time as a family at least for an afternoon from time to time, they need to know that you are parents together and you’re still a family, just different. I know this one can be very challenging and avoid it if you will end up fighting with the other parent in front of the kids. But eventually, when things get better and you’re in better terms it’s amazing to be able to still spend some time as the new family you are.

If you can follow these tips, trust me, you’ll be making big steps towards a new normal and getting out of the pain. It’s impossible to know how long it’ll take, but I can assure you it’ll be faster this way. Also, remember that a family is not a static entity that never changes. Even if you had stayed married, things would have changed at some point: it’s not the same to be parents of babies, than it is to have teenagers. So, don’t be hard on yourself and keep moving forward, the end of the tunnel is in front of you not behind. Keep doing your best all the time, and when you know better, do better.

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