Parenting well through separation or divorce is not easy. There are so many questions one might have in the midsts of it, including: how to discipline through divorce, how to co-parent with a difficult ex or co-parent after divorce, as well as communication guidelines to help the family get through this difficult time and come out stronger.
I’m hoping to shed some light on some of these questions you might have, as well as encourage you that parenting well through divorce IS possible, and divorce doesn’t have to ruin your child’s life.
Parenting Through Separation and Divorce
For most people, divorce is not happy, it’s not pretty, and “amicable” can often mean that you simply didn’t destroy one another in the process.
Most of us don’t get divorced because we want to, it’s often the last resort or sometimes even a panic reaction to a broken relationship.
Most of the women I know who are about to pursue and/or are going through a separation or divorce consider what’s going to happen to their children, and it scares them (understandably so).
I never dreamed about becoming a mom, only to have my children for half of their growing years, but that’s what I’ve been left with.
I’ve had to grieve what I lost or never had in that marriage, especially when it came to parenting.
I had to accept that I had way less control than I ever knew. I had to accept the fact that this life is unjust and unfair at times.
Since I have lived through the pain, the injustice, and the mistakes of it all, I want to help others navigate how to parent well through separation and divorce.
What are the best things we can do for our kids in the case of an unavoidable separation or divorce?
1. Be honest but not too detailed
This doesn’t mean we fill our kids in on all of the details surrounding the why. But it does mean we make it clear it’s not their fault (this will be hard for everyone), and both parents are team “kids” (only if both parents are).
2. Don’t FIGHT in front of your kids.
This means in-person, on the phone, over text, within their earshot, etc.
3. Do NOT talk bad about the other parent(s) with the kids nearby.
Even if it’s honest, if it’s negative about the other parent, their significant other, or their family, just keep quiet until the kids are away. If there is abuse involved, it’s okay to acknowledge bad behavior to them without talking bad or putting someone down.
4. Do NOT parent out of guilt.
This is not what’s best for the children. Good boundaries and discipline are necessary, as bribes and too much lenience are unhealthy for them, and often lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
5. Protect Them
Protect your kids, even if it means from yourself and your emotions, or the other parent.
This doesn’t mean talking bad, bashing, or trying to take them away from the other parent. This means educating your children on what healthy relationships look like.
6. Never stop teaching your kids about what’s right.
It’s good to talk with them about truth and right vs. wrong. A hard life exempts no one from responsibility, and that’s something we need to instill into our children before it’s too late.
7. Accept help.
Single parenting is hard! It’s good for you to have a community and for your kids to see that–it’s even better if they feel loved and cared for by that community. A good community is priceless in these times.
I would also recommend you and your kids go through counseling throughout the process. As there are big changes happening in their life, it’s important you know how to navigate through it all in a productive and healthy way.
8. Date responsibly or not at all.
It’s good to try to set a time after a divorce is finalized before you begin to date, in order to heal.
My counselor recommended a year, which was great, but I didn’t find my love for almost four years after my divorce.
If you are casually dating, your kids don’t need to be around it or hear much about it. But, it’s okay to share some things to teach them and be an example of dating well. Remind them that a broken heart or hurt feelings don’t have to mean not ever finding love again.
9. Treat the ex’s significant other with respect.
They may be hard to get along with. They may be an instigator. They may even be the reason you are divorced.
But, don’t waste your time hating them. Be ready to confront them as necessary in order to parent well together. If this significant other is combative and disrespectful, maybe even harmful to your children, it’s okay to speak out and take action without disrespecting that person.
10. Know your rights and the legal language.
I can’t stress enough making sure you understand your parenting agreement before signing off on it.
Have someone that has you and your kids’ best interest at heart (besides just a lawyer) make sure your kids are getting the best arrangement possible. Your children’s lives are changed and uprooted in these situations, so having someone to be a firm foundation when things get tough is VITAL. Your emotions might be all over the place, and having someone there to help you and your kids will only benefit the situation.
It’s important to revisit this agreement often to familiarize yourself, especially if things keep getting rearranged after the fact by your ex.
All of this can seem scary, overwhelming, and depressing, but I am here to tell you that there is hope after divorce.
Life and love don’t have to end there, and shouldn’t.
If things can be resolved in a marriage, it should be a priority. But I know so many instances where abuse, infidelity, and unrepentance remain, and divorce becomes a necessary protection.
Don’t let a separation or divorce make you feel like you are unworthy of love or respect.
Your worth is so much more than you know.
Don’t let separation or divorce cause you to try to find love wherever, and as fast as you can.
The more you are willing to heal through this journey and do what you are called to do, the more your kids will see that they can survive hard times and come out stronger on the other side.
There are so many things we could fear for our children in the midst of a separation or divorce. But how beautiful that we get to see how God will work when we continue to hand everything over to Him, including our children.
Please note that I deal with someone who co-parenting with is nearly impossible. I try to live by what I wrote above, and it works well both in amicable and hostile separation/divorce situations.