Communication Tips for Divorced Parents: Easing the Stress of Divorce on Children
Divorce is something that takes a toll on all concerned, and children are often the ones who are impacted acutely when their parents go their separate ways. It can lead to stress, sadness and confusion as kids grapple with the inevitable changes that are taking place in the home. Husband and wife may cease to be married to one another, but they will never cease to be the father and mother of their children. Therefore, after the divorce they will still need to co-parent their children, albeit while living in different homes.
If you are divorced, regardless of whatever has taken place between the two of you, for the sake of your children it is important to find the best possible way to communicate as you co-parent. This is rarely easy but can go a long way towards easing the stress of the divorce for your children and giving them the stability of having a good relationship with both of their parents. Here are a few communication tips for divorced parents:
Keep your fights private.
It is very traumatic for children when they are exposed to intense levels of parental conflict. This gives rise to conflicting emotions which can greatly hamper their long-term process of recovery and adjustment after the divorce. If you have to discuss something which may lead to an argument, make sure that you are out of earshot of your children. By a similar token it is best not to criticise your spouse in their absence. Rather make truthful statements of fact in a neutral tone to acknowledge real events such as if your spouse has been unfaithful or abusive, or has abandoned the family.
Make a distinction between feelings and behavior.
Divorces are usually fraught with bad feelings such as pain and anger, and this is understandable. However, you do not need to let your behavior be dictated by your pain or anger; it is important to make a conscious distinction between your feelings and your behavior. Don't let off steam to your children. Rather find a therapist or caring friends who will listen while you vent. Many people find a loving pet to be an excellent listener too. And there's nothing like a good run or walk in the fresh air to lift your spirits. Whenever you are struggling with anger or resentment, remember to keep your child's best interests in mind and use that as a guideline to control your behavior.
Keep your tone business-like.
When you need to communicate with your ex-spouse it is good to see your relationship as a strictly business arrangement. The 'business' you both have in common is co-parenting your children. Whether you speak personally, phone, email or text, try to keep your tone as business like and professional as possible. This way you can set an example of being respectful, courteous and neutral. Stay focused on whatever arrangement you need to make regarding the children and don't be drawn into any controversial side issues.
Be respectful and polite.
Prepare yourself for the long haul by keeping in mind that, depending on your children's ages, you will need to communicate and co-parent with your ex-spouse for the duration of their childhood and possibly longer. With practice you can learn to be respectful and polite, regardless of the triggers or pressure points your ex may seek to activate. Learn to listen before responding, and try to phrase your communications as requests rather than statements or demands. By saying, "are you willing to try this or that" you place the ball in their court and hopefully avoid some unnecessary conflict.
Deal with disagreements.
There are bound to be some disagreements along the way as you co-parent with your ex. Communicating clearly and consistently is the key to working through your issues, bearing in mind the principles of politeness and respect as stated above. This means taking your spouse's opinions and schedule into consideration and being willing to be flexible. You may both need to compromise here and there. In co-parenting, as in the rest of life, it's a good idea to choose your battles wisely and don't contest over every little thing. Save your energy and sanity for the important issues.
Don't use children as spies or messengers.
When things are tense between you and your ex, you may be tempted to get your children to convey messages or find out information for you. It is not fair to use the child in this way as it places them in the awkward position of being your messenger or spy. Rather communicate directly with your ex-spouse about visitation, scheduling, school problems or health issues. If you can't face seeing or calling him, you can write a carefully worded email or text message.
Avoid forcing children to choose.
One of the most agonizing choices for a child to make is to choose between parents. The child loves both of you and usually wants to remain close to both mother and father. It is your child's right to have a relationship with both parents which is free from any negative influence or manipulation. From your side make every attempt to facilitate that relationship for the sake of your child and refrain from saying negative things about your ex in front of your children.
Maintain comforting routines.
With some careful planning and consideration, it is possible to make the back and forth shuttle between two homes as enjoyable as possible for your child. Children (especially younger ones) thrive on healthy routines, so try to re-establish these as soon as possible after the divorce. To simplify the packing and unpacking, you might like to have two sets of basic things like toiletries and pyjamas at both houses. This can make both places feel more comfortable and homely. Sometimes the first moments or hours after returning from visitation can be tense or difficult and your child may need some time to adjust to the transition. Try having the same special meal when they return, or reading a book or playing a game together to help them settle back to normal again.
Always keep the goal in mind.
Whatever you and your ex-spouse do as you co-parent, always remember that your goal is to do what is ultimately best for the child, and for the child to have a good relationship with both parents for the rest of their lives.
Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and Pinterest.