Inside: How to help your child through your divorce. As a divorced mother of two and a child of divorce, I’ve compiled the good and bad parenting advice after divorce.
Prefer to listen to this article instead of reading? Click play below to listen to “What Your Kids Need From You After Divorce” on the Grace From Single Parents Podcast.
Questioning if your divorce will affect your children isn’t up for debate. Ask any expert or any child of divorce, and they will tell you, yes it does.
But take heart, we can minimize the effects our divorce or separation has on our children.
As a divorced mother of two and a child of divorce myself, I’ve experienced, been the recipient, and the giver of both positive and negative parenting after divorce. Here’s what I’ve learned looking back.
how to Help Your Child Through Your Divorce
At the bottom of this post is a download of helpful tips for your first year as a single parent.
Your child’s world is rocked after your divorce…for the rest of their lives.
When you start to feel overwhelmed or sorry for yourself, consider from your child’s point of view what they are dealing with:
- Shuttled from house to house.
- Learn to manage their schedule at a much earlier age than other children.
- Become more responsible by remembering clothing items or favorite items between houses.
- Adjust to another home or possibly accommodate to less or no time with another parent.
- Learn to adapt to new people in intimate settings such as step-parents, step-siblings, new boyfriends, girlfriends.
- As they get older, manage conflict between two families with holiday gatherings or weddings.
- Being aware of what they say about either parent in front of the other.
- Becoming hyper-conscious of family dynamics for the rest of their lives.
Although you’re going through a laundry list of emotions of your own, when you’re with your children, your number one priority is to appear as emotionally stable as possible.
Be a rock they can lean on.
- Don’t lie around and cry in front of your child. Don’t make your child parent or comfort you. They have enormous feelings right now, and they can’t deal with yours.
- Your child shouldn’t be your sounding board for an inappropriate conversation about your intimate feelings about your relationship. If you find yourself talking to your child as a friend or therapist, apologize to your child, stop and find someone who can handle your emotions objectively.
- Don’t say anything negative about their other parent.
- Your child doesn’t need to know the details of the divorce, child support, or custody hearings if your child asks you, merely states the facts and as simply as possible.
What your children need to know is the divorce has nothing to do with your love for them and how they are affected. Which for them means their schedule: when they see each parent and which house they’ll be at when.
If any of these are too hard for you, then reach out to a friend or family member to discuss your situation with or consider counseling.
Divorce is a huge life event. Avoiding any other stressful life events for your children you have control over is crucial during this time.
It’s often said children are resilient, and we throw that quote around as an excuse to let go our guilt of the consequences of our decisions. I wouldn’t say children are resilient so much as they survive as we all do. They’re experiencing the divorce of their parents. It’s as heartbreaking to them as it is to you. That’s enough change for as long as you can contain it.
Changes to Limit
1. Keeping your child in their original home isn’t always possible, but it’s ideal.
Regardless if you’re the one awarded primary and/or resident caregiver, if your child can keep their bedroom and home before the divorce, it’ll be one less change for them to adapt to.
If both parents move out of the child’s home, which is sometimes unavoidable, consider what else can stay the same. The goal is to minimize outside change as much as possible.
2. School or daycare. Even this means additional driving time for you or applying for out of district admission. After a few years, you can consider the move.
3. Friends. Minimize the number of friends they’ll have to say goodbye to. If you move houses and they have neighborhood friends, work to see how to keep those relationships alive.
4. Pets. If your child has a beloved pet, it can bring him or her much comfort during this time. Find ways your child can keep their pet or bring their pet between houses.
5. Extended family. If your child has a grandparent, aunt, or uncle they’re especially close to, find ways to let them spend extra time with them during the transition.
6. In-Laws. Regardless of your relationship with your ex or your child’s relationship with their other parent, if your child has a good relationship with your in-laws, is there anything you can do to encourage the bond?
If they have a close connection with their grandparents, for example, and the divorce will separate them more frequently see if you can use your ex-in-laws for babysitting, putting your differences aside.
Time will help with this if it’s difficult at the beginning. But remembering the focus is your children can help as well.
Give Your Child Room
Your kids will be upset after a divorce and maybe even angry at you.
Let them feel all the emotions. Let them pull away from you a bit, be mad at you or the world or God.
They need this time to feel all their big feelings and not have someone tell them their feelings aren’t “correct.” Your children need their feelings validated.
Consider counseling for your children. Often the list of when to send your child to therapy includes all the normal reactions children of divorce go through.
Some parents err on the side of caution and send their child to therapy from the beginning.
Some parents choose to wait until they see or hear symptoms are starting to affect other areas of their lives from their school teacher, coach, or family friend.
Affirm Your Children
All children need declarations of their parents love daily, but a child of divorce especially needs this when their world is splitting in two. The foundation of their world is crumbling.
Build your child’s self-esteem and ensure they know they are loved by you, their other parent, and God. Reinforce these truths for them daily.
Even if this means you tell them on behalf of the other parent, regardless of their actions or your feelings.
Remind your child every day not only that you love them but that you’re proud of them, God loves them, they are special, and they are a child of God.
If you have more than one child, spend alone time with each one every day. Even spending ten minutes alone with your child right before bedtime is enough to make an impact. This acknowledgment will do wonders for your child and creates a peaceful bedtime routine.
You’re going to be exhausted with all the responsibilities of being a single parent and most likely feel sorry for yourself or guilty for putting your child in this situation.
But this isn’t the time to shower your child with gifts or give in to their every demand. Some children will deal with their stress in unhealthy ways and take advantage of your lowered defenses, especially older children.
It’s crucial to keep your boundaries healthy now more than ever.
Although above we discussed allowing your child to express their emotions, you cannot let your child call you names or abuse you or any of your established family values.
Related: Stories of Successful Single Moms
When transitioning from a two-parent to one parent home and switching between two houses, there will be new routines for your child to learn. Which means growing pains for all involved.
Separation anxiety, which may be new to your child or resurface, doesn’t necessarily cause for alarm. Your child most likely is uncomfortable with a new home and is afraid to be separated from you. All of these changes scare young children.
However, standing firm and establishing your child’s new routine and time spent with both parents from the onset is in everyone’s best interest (assuming safe living standards and you’re following the court-ordered or agreed-upon custody schedule.)
Giving into your child’s crying will later become more difficult as it morphs into giving in to their demands with more intelligent reasons for not wanting to spend time at the other parent’s house or going to school, or whatever the case may be.
The same goes for illness. It’ll be difficult when your child becomes ill or hurt to send them to their other parent’s. If you’ve always been the primary caregiver, you’ll want your child to stay with you when their sick regardless of whose house they should be at.
Establishing boundaries early and in all situations shows your children that both parents love them and can take care of them. Insisting you take over for every illness, hurt, or every time your child asks, shows your children you’re the only one who cares for them and makes the other parent powerless.
Ideally, you co-parent better than you ever parented when married. The conflict between parents causes the most anxiety within children of divorce.
As much as possible, help the other parent be a successful parent as well. For your child, not for your ex.
So, how can you minimize the effects of divorce on your child?
We swallow words we want to say.
We smile when we want to cry.
We cherish the moments with our children when we have them more than we ever did before.
And we trust it will get easier.
Don’t neglect your own self-care. Truly in order to care for another human who is hurting, you must be taking care of yourself.
If that means getting professional help, reaching out to your church or friends, then do it.
Start here for ideas and resources if you’re feeling lost.
Single Mom Toolbox
Your first few years as a single parent will be a roller coaster but if you stay focused you and your children can be overcomers.
Being a single mom is HARD. But you don’t have to do this alone. Take my personal worksheets and resources from almost 10 years of single motherhood and put them to use for YOU.
The 10 tips above about parenting well during divorce plus over 20 more resources and printables are inside The Single Mom Toolbox – designed and curated specifically for single moms.