You don’t need to worry about harming your child’s future, whether you’ve been divorced for a while or recently. Divorce is a part of your child’s life, but their overall well-being still depends on both parents.
Divorce can indeed lead to behavioral problems in children. However, it’s crucial to understand that divorce doesn’t mean the end for your children. As a parent, there are several things you can do to support your child during this challenging time.
Let’s explore some common situations in divorced families and learn how to handle them to ensure your child doesn’t feel caught in the middle.
Ways to Parent on Your Own Terms
1. You Can Parent Differently from Your Ex
Parenting after divorce differently from your ex can be challenging, especially if you couldn’t agree on many things leading to your divorce. It’s important to remember that post-divorce, your ex can’t dictate how you should raise your children, and vice versa. Unless there’s evidence of abuse or neglect, the courts generally support the idea that each parent has the right to their own parenting style.
When your children are with you, you are solely responsible for setting and enforcing rules that align with your values. Don’t stress about how your ex-parents in their home; focus on maintaining consistency in your own. You have the authority to shape your child’s environment when they are with you.
While collaborating with your ex on parenting can be beneficial, it’s not always easy. Try making suggestions, sharing concerns, and listening to their perspective. If there are disagreements, communicate openly and aim to find common ground. Remember, you can’t control your ex’s parenting style, but you can control your own. Redirect your energy towards what you can manage and the well-being of your children.
2. If Your Ex Criticizes Your Parenting, It’s Best Not to Get Involved in Arguments
If your ex criticizes your parenting after divorce, it’s best not to get involved in arguments.
Instead, respond calmly by saying, “I feel comfortable with the way I handle things.”
Repeat this statement if the complaints persist. Avoid further discussions on the topic and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into a fight.
Maintain a level-headed approach even if your ex’s parenting style frustrates you. Remember that your influence is significant, especially when your child is with you. Focus on the positive aspects of your parenting rather than getting overly upset by your ex’s opinions. Stick to asserting your comfort with your own parenting methods.
3. Do Not Put Your Child in the Middle
When parents involve their children in conflicts, it puts them in a tough spot. Avoid putting your children in the middle by refraining from talking negatively about your ex. Children prefer not to pick sides and want to enjoy time with you without worrying about the other parent.
If your child shares something like, “Dad said I don’t get enough help with my schoolwork,” respond in a non-defensive manner.
Instead of denying or criticizing your ex, say, “I think we’re doing well together. Sorry your father feels this way.”
By doing this, you resolve the issue without dragging your child into the conflict, sending a message that they can freely express themselves without fear of causing problems.
Steer clear of saying anything negative about your ex directly to your child, even if your ex’s behavior upsets you. If you need to vent, choose a friend instead of involving your child. Keeping your child away from the conflicts helps foster healthy relationships between them and both parents, benefiting everyone involved.
4. When Kids Play Parents off Each Other
Divorce can sometimes lead children to play one parent against the other to gain an advantage.
You may hear statements like, “Mom said I don’t have to do extra schoolwork if I don’t want to,” or “Dad lets me stay up until 10 p.m.”
It’s crucial to recognize that children often use this tactic to manipulate parents and get what they want.
If you catch your child manipulating in this way, address it directly by saying:
“When you’re in my house, you must follow my rules. Follow Dad’s rules when you are at his home. I can’t control what Dad does, and he can’t dictate what I do.”
This reinforces the importance of following specific rules in each household.
To prevent manipulation, check directly with the other parent to verify your child’s statements. Ensure you and the other parent are on the same page, and your child will quickly learn that this kind of manipulation won’t work.
Avoid making a habit of sending messages to your ex through your child. Instead, communicate directly with the other parent if you have questions or need to leave a message.
If your child attempts to conceal or manipulate information from the other parent, confront them by saying, “I spoke to your mother, and she didn’t say that. You don’t have to lie to me.”
This makes it clear that manipulating one parent against the other won’t be tolerated.
5. How to Manage Your Child’s Transition Between Homes
Some kids struggle with the weekly transition between homes, expressing their emotions through tantrums or withdrawing behaviors upon returning home. Understanding why they act this way can be helpful. They might be testing your stability and strength, having possibly kept it together with the other parent. Some may be upset about the disruption in their lives and wish for the family to be back together.
It’s essential to empathize with the emotions driving these behaviors, considering that your children are dealing with circumstances they didn’t choose or control.
While sympathy is crucial, you don’t have to tolerate disrespectful behavior. When discussing their actions, acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, “You sound angry. What’s happening?” or “You sound sad. It must be difficult to leave your father’s house and not see him again for a few weeks.”
Ignore tantrums as much as possible and respond only after your child calms down. Reinforce positive behavior during transitions by saying:
“I noticed that you were calm and in control when you returned home this week. You’re a tough cookie, and I admire you for keeping your cool.”
This approach helps address their emotions while reinforcing positive behavior during challenging times.
6. How to Respond When Your Child “Overfunctions”
Divorce affects children in various ways, leading them to either underachieve or overachieve, withdraw, or act out. Psychologists refer to the latter as overfunctioning, where children may try to take on the role of the missing parent, acting more like adults than kids. However, this overfunctioning response is not helpful or effective in the long run.
After a divorce, children might feel the need to excel to compensate for the void left by the absent parent. They might take on more responsibilities, thinking it helps cope with the stress of separation. The best way to support your child during this challenging time is to encourage them to enjoy their childhood and live as independently as possible.
Let your child know that you don’t require them to take care of you. Reassure them that, despite the difficulties you’re facing, you can still manage the responsibilities of taking care of the family and yourself. By conveying this message through your actions and words, you provide a sense of security and allow your child to focus on being a child.
7. Understand Why Your Child Acts Out
Kids may act out after a divorce for various reasons, and here are some common ones:
- Feeling out of control
- Hope for parental reunification
- Testing new boundaries
- Seeking strength in the parent
- Blaming themselves for the divorce
Understanding these reasons doesn’t mean you have to accept your child’s challenging behavior. It’s essential to empathize with your child’s feelings and communicate that you appreciate cooperation.
Set clear limits and enforce consequences, emphasizing the importance of positive and respectful behavior. This approach helps create a structured and supportive environment during the post-divorce period.
8. Don’t Ignore Consequences Out of Guilt
Here’s another tip for parenting after divorce. The stress and anxiety resulting from parental divorce can lead children to misbehave and act out. Many parents, feeling guilty about the impact on their child’s life, may hesitate to enforce consequences. However, despite understandable guilt, skipping consequences can harm your child.
Effective consequences play a crucial role in teaching children to manage their emotions appropriately, a skill they need more than ever during challenging times. Consistency is key—maintain structure and be empathetic as your children navigate tough times.
Hold the line when boundaries are crossed, and don’t deviate from established consequences. Be firm with discipline, maintaining the same standards for teenagers as you always have. If a 10-year-old behaves disrespectfully, follow through with appropriate consequences.
After emotions have settled, engage in open communication with your child. Ask them about their feelings and thoughts regarding the divorce, and actively listen to what they have to say. Providing a safe space for expression can be crucial for your child during this difficult time.
9. Accept the Fact That You May Fall Apart
Breaking down after a divorce is natural and normal. Ending a relationship with a spouse involves grieving, even if the separation was amicable. Feelings of anger, frustration, and being overwhelmed are common during this period.
It’s important to recognize that your child’s behavior may also be impacted. They will grieve the changes and worry about transitioning between Mom’s and Dad’s houses, dealing with different rules, and what the future holds.
You have the right to express your emotions and break down; there’s no need to hide difficult or sad feelings from your child.
However, it’s crucial not to overshare or provide too much information about your private life or past relationship with your ex-partner. This can inadvertently place your child in an adult role, creating bias and potential confusion. Instead of sharing too much, let your child know that you are going through a tough time, fostering understanding without burdening them with unnecessary details.
Conclusion – Parenting After Divorce
Recognize that your child’s well-being is significantly influenced by the relationship they have with both parents. Keeping this in mind can help you stay calm and find peace amidst the challenges of divorce. Remember that the impact on your child’s life extends beyond the divorce itself.
If you find yourself grappling with the complexities of divorce, please know that you’re not alone. I’m Jill St Louis, a Certified Family Law Mediator and Certified Divorce Coach in Florida, and I’m here to offer you support and guidance through this challenging journey.
Remember, it’s okay to ask for help, and together, we can work towards a brighter future. Call now for a free consultation!