How to Get Along After Divorce: Spare Your Kids the Heartache

How to Get Along After Divorce: Spare Your Kids the Heartache

Divorce not only exacts a toll on the couple, but it also affects the rest of the family. Brothers’ and sisters’ in-law, extended family and neighbors. Like it or not your divorce is causing people to pick sides, especially if you and your soon-to-be-ex are having an ugly separation. It’s that very consequence that causes a lot of people to stay in hopeless relationships much longer than they should.

But, eventually when you know you must move on, you have to acknowledge that there’s going to be some collateral damage.

Nobody feels the conflict more deeply though, than the kids caught in the crossfire. 

Adolescent brains can’t rationalize that they’re not somehow to blame or that their choice to live with one or the other isn’t making you mad or hurting your feelings. When my ex and I finally spilt we had just moved from NC to NM (it’s more complicated even than that, but…close enough). When she announced she had found a job back in NC and that she was moving there at the end of the school year, my kids had a pretty hard decision to make.

Stay with me in a brand new state, in a brand new school, with brand new friends or return, without me, to the life they had built over the previous six years in NC.

As the parent (adult), I made the choice for them. Of course they should return to their friends and the familiarity of the town where they’d finished elementary school middle school and started high school. Of course they should return to the coaches who’d help them through their first awkward volleyball games and the teachers who had encouraged their interest in digital arts.

“I’ll be right behind you.”, meanwhile a year later…

They are both the cause of my optimism and the source of my utter heartbreak. Not being with them everyday kills me, but they’ll never know it. Dealing with coordinating holidays and visits through their mother is an exercise in frustration and powerlessness that I have otherwise abolished from my life, but they’ll never know the either.

The fact that I have to ride the line between dissociation and love for their mother drives me mad, but they’ll never know that either. It’s not their problem.

I don’t use their mother to fuck with them and I don’t use them to fuck with their mother. But it’s hard. It’s hard because I have to love her without falling back in love with her. I have to distance myself from her life, I have no place in it, without letting any harm come to her and by association to them. But, they’ll never know that either. 

It’s a constant battle, zig-zagging back and forth across the line of demonstrating that she’s a great mother to them and not confusing her good qualities for compatibility or a false sense of hope.

It means never asking them what she’s doing, where she is or who see’s with, but never forgetting Mother’s Day, Christmas or her birthday.

As far as they’re concerned they’re doing exactly what I need them to do: take care of themselves and take care of their mother.

And they’ll never know that she and I are no longer best friends. As far as they know I’m happy for her and wish her all the best. And I have to.

You see, when I sent them 1847 miles away it was the only way I knew how to protect the fragile relationship I was going to have, needed to have with their mother. Break-ups with children add a very weird and difficult dynamic. How do you stay amicable, and never speak ill of the person who broke your heart and moved on without you?

Your love for your children, and who they love, overshadows your pain, that’s how.

When I decided it was time to let it go it was, ironically, for my kids. Of all the family cycles I’d ended, this one, the one of the dysfunctional marriage, was the most difficult.

I believe even though it’s very difficult to hide the negative feelings that surface during a divorce, it’s extremely important that to work at managing those feelings constructively if you don’t want them to affect your kids.

The next hurdle to clear was to avoid the mistake of believing that my adult problems are too complicated for my children to understand. Not saying anything and just carrying on like nothing happened is just as dangerous as laying out all our relationship problems on the table in front of them. I didn’t want my kids to suppress anything they were trying to work through: guilt, shame, fear, uncertainty…whatever.

Although children may not understand words like “irreconcilable differences,” they’re very intuitive and impressionable. Even babies can tell when their parents are at war; the tension in the air has a way of being transferred from one body to the other.

No parent wants their children to suffer through a divorce in the same way they’re suffering. If you’re going through a rough divorce, implementing the following strategies helped me and my children stay as happy as possible during the heart-wrenching process:

  1. I avoided arguing in front of them. To leave the least impact, avoid arguing in front of the kids. You can have differences, but keep them between you. When the children are within earshot, keep in mind the effect your words can have on them. Take a deep breath, if necessary, to give you time to plan wisely what you’re going to say. This is about our shortcomings as husband and wife, not father and mother.
  2. I avoid saying negative things about her, ever. The last thing I want is for my children to develop negative feelings towards one of their parents. Not too mention, at some level I would have established that I’m willing to talk shit about someone I claim to care about, and it could cause their trust in me to falter. Instead of piling on the criticisms in front of the kids, I would mention that:
    • Both of us love all our children unconditionally
    • We will each always play a part in their lives
    • They make me happy and proud
    • We’re both doing the best we can
  1. Although we’re going through a divorce, I’m trying to spare my kids some heartache by continuing to spend time together as a unit. While we don’t show any physical affection like holding hands or driving in the same car, putting in the effort to get along on special occasions, I hope, helps them continue to have a sense of family.
    • Attend meetings together to learn about your child’s progress in school
    • Be present together at your children’s birthday parties
    • Each time I visit NC I make an effort to arrange a ‘family dinner’ at one of our favorite restaurants just like “old times”
  1. To the extent possible, I share the child rearing responsibilities. I’m not just the “fun” parent who sides with them all the time – that’s a passive-aggressive way of saying their mother is wrong or mean or whatever. I want them to feel that sense of togetherness that comes from their mother and I continuing to raise them together and that both parents should be respected.

Divorcing parents should always put the interests of their children at the forefront of their minds. The emotional turmoil you’re experiencing is difficult, but you can find strength in being a parent. 

Once you recognize and acknowledge your most significant role as a parent, you’ll find it easier to go through the process of divorce without allowing it to have undue negative effects on your children. Maintain focus on those impressionable young ones and all of you may come out of this stronger people.

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