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Truths About Divorcing with Kids

5 min read

By Lisa Arends
May 18, 2021

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There's a lot to know about divorcing with kids. And there are some realities that still may surprise you. Are you aware of these five eye-opening truths?


Don't alienate the children from their other parent.

From the day this all began, you vowed to not withhold the children from your ex. And you've stuck to your word, fulfilling every scheduled visit and being careful not to not restrict access. Yet, you're starting to see that access isn't enough to maintain a parent/child bond, and you're worried for the kids as you see the distance growing between them and the other parent.

So you try to step in, to encourage the kids to connect, and to compel your ex to put forth more effort into establishing a relationship. You beg, you implore, you question, and you grow increasingly frustrated at the situation. You struggle to understand why they're not prioritizing the kids; and every time you see your kids disappointed, your heart breaks a little more.

Here's the eye-opening truth.

You can't create, maintain, or improve the children's relationship with the other parent. All you can do is provide access and refrain from mudslinging. The rest of the work is up to them.

What you can do is continue to be there for your children and reassure them that their parent's behavior is not their fault or their responsibility. You can teach them empathy and help them understand that even adults struggle to manage things sometimes.

Your ex may step up and form a relationship with the kids sooner rather than later. They may keep their distance for a time, only to develop a meaningful bond with their adult children. Or, as much as it pains you, they may never connect with their children. Let go of the illusion of control over that outcome.

Don't badmouth your ex in front of the kids.

Chapter 1 of How to Divorce With Kids is: "Don't badmouth your ex in front of the kids." Everyone knows it, and most try to follow this guideline, setting aside their own feelings for the sake of the kids. So you bite your tongue when little ears are listening and save your tirades for more private times. You carefully craft your responses to difficult questions to avoid implicating your ex.

Here's the eye-opening truth.

You have to make an effort to not compromise your ex's new partner in the minds of the kids. Which, in cases where this new partner entered the picture before you left, is a very difficult task to manage. But it's important. For you, this other person embodies all of the bitterness and sorrow you feel, becoming more of a monster and less of a person. Yet for your kids, this person is another (perhaps significant) adult in their lives, someone they have to negotiate a relationship with, and perhaps even learn to accept as a future stepparent.

When you allow your feelings for your ex’s partner to show (even if they're un-vocalized), it creates confusion and tension for your kids. On the one hand, they want to be loyal and supportive of you; and on the other hand, they don't want conflict with their other parent. It's not easy, and it's often not fair. But your kids are worth the effort. So strive to separate what the other partner represents to you from who they are to your kids.

Don't place the blame on the kids.

Children have a tendency to internalize everything. So it's common that when they learn of the impending divorce, they think that it must be due to their refusal to go to bed on time last week or the tantrum they threw in the check-out line at the grocery store. Know to reassure them that they are not at fault, that these are adult problems between mommy and daddy, and that both of their parents love them so very much.

Here's the eye-opening truth.

One of the biggest struggles after divorce is the rediscovery of your purpose; and when you're a parent, that role and by extension, your children, fills that need nicely. Of course, your kids are your biggest priority, but you have to be careful after divorce not to make them your only concern.

When the kids become your sole purpose for moving on and pushing through, you're inadvertently putting all of the responsibility for your well-being on their tiny shoulders. And that's a huge burden for them to bear. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself, while also looking out for them. Model for them what true independence and perseverance look like. In the end, that will serve them better than you existing only to fill their needs.

Do be available to talk when the kids are ready.

You end the dreaded we're getting a divorce announcement with, "I'm here whenever you need to talk." And you mean those words. You frequently check in with your children, and you're ready to drop everything and listen whenever they're in the mood to open up.

Here's the eye-opening truth.

Especially if your children are in, or approaching, double-digit ages, you may not be their preferred go-to when they are struggling with the divorce. It's important for you to provide access to other safe adults for them to talk to, and to let them know that it's okay for them to open up.

It can be stressful to think about the details of your divorce from your child's perspective being shared, but if you deliver the message that the topic is taboo, it breeds a sense of shame and secrecy in the kids. It is more important that your children are able to talk through their fears and concerns with someone than it is for that someone to be you, or for you to control what information is revealed.

Your divorce will impact the kids.

Children need a sense of security and stability, and divorce threatens both. Inevitably, children are affected when their parents separate.

Here's the eye-opening truth.

When you focus too much on the strain and impact of the situation, you may be unintentionally promoting a sense of victimhood in your children. Too much emphasis on what happened emphasizes the lack of control the kids have over the situation, and gives them the feeling that they are damaged, perhaps permanently.

Instead, focus on building grit. Share stories of overcoming adversity. Model and vocalize the power of choice in any situation. Acknowledge the impact the divorce has had on them, yet also refuse to allow them to be defined by that singular event. Fortitude and a sense of power over their own well-being are two of the biggest gifts you can give your children. Don't miss out on this opportunity.

If you are experiencing marital difficulties, please visit DivorceForcePRO to speak with one of our experts. To learn more about our Community, visit DivorceForce.com.  

Written by Lisa Arends

Lisa Arends is a divorcee working to inspire others to move forward, recenter, and repurpose their lives. She has written the "How-To-Thrive Guide." Learn more about "thriving" and be inspired by visiting LessonsFromTheEndOfAMarriage.com.

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