For many couples, few days are as special as their wedding day. Surrounded by family and friends, the newly married couple often feels as if they have the whole world ahead of them. For some, however, that joy is short-lived or fleeting. In fact, current research posits that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce (and 2nd and 3rd marriages have a higher rate than that).1 And while divorce is never easy on those who are separating, when children are involved it can be even more difficult.
Going through a separation can be emotionally taxing any time of the year, but the holidays can be especially trying on everyone involved. Sometimes, there is an urge to keep up appearances, whether it be holiday cards, social media posts, or any number of other things.
If you find yourself in a position where you and your spouse contemplating divorce and children are involved, below are some tips I give my clients who are going through this challenging time.
Little Ears are Listening
Some marriages end amicably, but that isn’t the case for everyone. When confronted with the tough reality that a relationship isn’t going to last, it is easy for soon-to-be exes to argue frequently.
While conflict is bound to happen in any relationship — especially those that are falling apart — it is important that you and your partner be mindful of where and when these arguments or disagreements take place.
Arguing in front of your kids should be avoided at all costs. When parents argue, it’s natural for kids to think they’re somehow to blame for the discord in the household. Even if you have young children who you don’t think “understand” what’s going on, it is still important to be mindful of your tone when having disagreements.
If you and your partner are trying to do what’s best for your children, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in co-parenting after divorce. Marriage therapists are great for troubled marriages, but if you and your spouse have settled on a divorce, a co-parenting therapist is a more appropriate venue to air grievances regarding visitation, parenting philosophies, and so on. These environments are not only conducive to helping you and your ex co-parent better, but it also provides your child the freedom from not over-hearing mommy and daddy arguing.
Educate Yourself as Co-Parents
This idea of co-parenting while being in different households is hard to grasp for many families. However, if you and your ex are committed to making the transition as easy as possible for your children, consider taking a parent education course in order to help your little ones best cope with the transition.
Studies show that children who grow up in a “happy home” are more likely to have fewer mental, physical, and educational issues than those who grow up in homes with unhealthy marital relationships.(1)
Parent education classes provide an unbiased perspective and offer support, while keeping the children’s best interest in mind. Additionally, these sorts of programs have been shown to improve the way children cope with their parents’ divorce not only immediately after the divorce, but for subsequent years, too.(2)
In essence, when parents present a united front, the kids pick up on that. When Mom and Dad are working together, being consistent in rules, parenting, and so on, it is easier for kids to focus on just being kids rather than being brought into Mom and Dad’s relationship problems.
It Still Takes a Village
Even after you and your spouse separate, if you’re both dedicated to raising your children to be as happy and healthy as they can be, it is possible for your communication to improve over time. While you may not be in-love anymore, the shared love for your children can serve as a guiding light to put your differences aside in the best interest of the kids.
Velez, C.E., Wolchick, S.A., Tein, J.Y., and Sandler, I. (2011). “Protecting children from the consequences of divorce: A longitudinal study of the effects of parenting on children’s coping processes.” Child Development, 82 (1):244-257.