by Joshua Stern, Contributor to The Huffington Post Divorce
Now that you’re divorced, you may be wondering how your role as a parent must change. The truth is it doesn’t need to change much if at all. Instead, you now need to consider your parental role in light of the new relationship you have with your ex as co-parents, and how each of you can make your children’s adjustment to your divorce as seamless as possible. It may mean not fixing what’s not broken and, on the flip side, fixing what may be very broken, like the way in which you relate to your former spouse.
As a divorce and family law attorney who has counseled hundreds of clients through their divorces, I am comfortable sharing a few pieces of wisdom I have gleaned about how to create an easier transition for children of divorce when the dust does finally settle. Whether you were involved in an amicable or high-conflict split, as parents it is incumbent upon you to see your children through this difficult time with as little disruption as possible. Here’s how.
1. Be consistent.
Creating stability post-divorce is critical. As children begin traveling back and forth between two houses, it is important for them to know what you expect of them. Establishing a unified set of rules, such as a curfew, bedtime, and time allotted for playing video games will go a long way toward easing insecurities that may arise when one household splits into two. Children crave structure and will strive to meet your expectations—as long as they know what they are.
2. Don’t disparage.
You may think your spouse is evil but to your children, your ex is someone they love. As children grow up and become independent, they struggle to reconcile their identity with where they came from and what qualities they have inherited from their parents, physical or otherwise. Do your best to keep such conversations at bay, remembering that when you criticize a parent, you are inadvertently criticizing the child.
3. Don’t pry.
That means don’t ask questions about your ex’s whereabouts, who they are dating, how much they are spending, and whatever else your enquiring mind wants to know. By interrogating your children after a visit, you are turning them into a spy. As a spy, children are in the awkward position of betraying one or both of their parents’ trust. Children need to feel safe, and putting them in the middle accomplishes exactly the opposite as they struggle to “do the right thing” by both of their parents.
4. Don’t reinvent.
If, before to your divorce, you were the parent primarily responsible for coaching your child’s soccer team after work and on weekends while your spouse supervised most of the homework on school nights, don’t suddenly try to assume both roles or a schedule you will be unable to maintain long-term. Not only will your children be disappointed when you cannot live up to the unreasonable expectations you have set, so will you. If you would like to take on more responsibility, do it for the “right” reasons, like strengthening and deepening the bond you have with your children. And do it gradually. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, with your kids being the biggest winners of all.
5. Don’t interfere.
As you adjust to new custody arrangements, you may suddenly have free time you never did before. Though you may feel lonely, jealous, or like you have lost control, it is important not to encroach on or interfere with your ex’s parenting time. To put it simply, let the other parent… parent. Be flexible when you can as opposed to spiteful, and remind yourself your focus should be on your children and nowhere else. Because, as we all know, when our children are doing well, so are we.