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Divorce and Kids
It has been at least six or seven years (I have lost track!) since I went through my second and last divorce, after what I thought had been twenty years of a fairly good relationship. I have been happily remarried for the last four years and plan to stay that way for the rest of my life! Since then, I have had plenty of time to think about the weeks and months following the whole messy affair and what, if anything, I would have done differently. The most important problem that must be dealt with is the children who are caught in the middle. Everything else is secondary. How they are treated, and/or affected, will be with them the rest of their life.
Before, during and after all the turmoil. I’m not sure if any age child is better equipped than any other to navigate this difficult time. From the friends I have spoken to that have gone through a divorce with varying ages of children, it doesn’t seem to matter. Certainly, different ages will require different sets of actions and explanations.
In hindsight, the most important thing should be not to wait or keep the inevitable from your kids. If you do try to keep it a secret and they find out, you will be working on damage control for a few months, at least. Be honest with them and be sure to assure them that it is not their fault. You need to continue to keep them a part of your life regardless of where they are or whom they are living with. Remember that you will always be one of their parents.
Custody can be a battle in itself. Luckily, I did not have to go through this fight. If it does occur, be sure that you put your children ahead of your feelings and bitterness after the dust has settled. Live with the consequences and continue to carry on a good relationship with them, whatever the results of your separation.
So here are a few simple tips on dealing with kids during the aftermath and for the future:
1) NEVER badmouth your ex in front of any of your children. It is very easy in the emotions of the moment to start ranting about the inadequacies, stupidity, irresponsibility, etc, of your former spouse. Regardless of what he or she says about you to them, refrain from entering a “down with the other side” mentality. Keep your thoughts to yourself and be positive about his or her actions. You both married each other for a reason and must have been in love at some point. It could not have been all bad.
2) Continually remind them that they are not at fault. They need to realize that they are not responsible for what has happened. Be honest and sincere about your feelings without being nasty or bitter. You read time and time again that children often think that they are at fault for one reason or another.
3) Remember that you have a life, too. They don’t have to demand ALL your attention. You can go out and have fun without feeling guilty. If your children are old enough to understand what is going on, they may initially have a problem with this new person who is now getting used to his or her new found freedom. But they will get used to it and accept it over time.
4) If your kids are old enough to stay by themselves, be sure to tell them where you are so they can reach you if they need to. There is no reason you can’t sleep over somewhere else if the situation arises. Obviously, if you have younger children, staying overnight will take more planning, if it happens at all. Having a relationship with someone is not sleeping around!
5) Let them know you understand that a new girlfriend is not going to replace their mother, especially if you are dealing with older teenagers. There may be resentment if you start seeing other people. If you develop a serious relationship with another person, there may be a need for a heart-to-heart conversation between all the parties involved.
6) Don’t be surprised if they think you are “a different person”, as my son kept telling me. Or “what has happened to the old dad?” Of course you are going to change! You have been through hell and back and are basically starting over. Very little may remain the same about you or your life. If you have been married for a long time, as I had been, your actions as a new single are probably going to be different than as a happily married spouse (or unhappily married spouse!).
7) Don’t let your kids find you in bed with a stranger when they wake up in the morning. If you are serious enough with someone to bring them home, introduce him or her to your children and let them know that they will be staying for the night. Or warn them ahead of time if they will be asleep when you arrive.
I was told a story about a friend of a friend who decided the time was correct to have an adult sleepover without telling her children. He was a policeman and left a pair of handcuffs in the living room on the way to the bedroom before the older teenagers came home. Needless to say, on walking in the door later that night, the kids were a little taken aback by what they saw and a lot of explaining ensued.
When you decide to start a new relationship with children still around, let common sense prevail. It is much easier to be proactive then to engage in damage control for months after.