Depending on the source you seek, divorce rates are anywhere from 35-50% for first marriages and even higher for second marriages.  Many parents will ask themselves, will our kids be okay, and what will our family look like in the future?  These are valid fears that can cause many emotions. I recently attended a conference for the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC).  We spent some time learning about effective co-parenting and keeping children emotionally resilient when their parents are divorcing.

My parents divorced when I was 21.  I remember the emotional pain I felt as I struggled, and as I watched my parents and siblings hurt.  Even as an adult child, I felt a lot of turmoil realizing that our family would never be the same. While at the AFCC conference, I reflected on how my parents transitioned into co-parenting, and I found myself feeling grateful for how they made changes in their parenting.  It wasn’t perfect, but they worked hard to help their children through a difficult time.  Here are a few tips that may be helpful for parents as they navigate through the difficult and unknown dynamics of divorce.  Although divorce will look different for each family, one thing we do know is that limiting the child’s involvement in the divorce is essential.

  1. Keep them out of the fighting.  Let your child be the child, even if your children are adults.  Do not involve them in the conflict.  They should feel free to love both parents and not feel pressured to pick sides.  When children witness angry and venomous fighting between their parents, they are more likely to act out and develop unhealthy views about intimate relationships. Try to be mature and model ways of dealing with disagreements.
  2. Keep up daily routines. There are going to be many changes with the divorce, including adjusting to living in two homes.  Keep things as familiar and comfortable as possible and establish routines that are consistent at both homes. Consider keeping the children close to their friends, extended family, and school.  Help your children feel secure in a time when things feel very insecure.
  3. Make sure both parents are present.  Many years ago, it was common in divorce for children to go with their mother and have limited contact with their father.  This started to change in the 80’s when researchers could see the value of having a relationship with each parent.  There is no parent that is more important than the other, so encourage your children to love both parents and don’t make them choose which parent to love.
  4. Do not trash talk your ex. Unfortunately, this comes all too easy for us,, even when it isn’t our ex-spouse.  Be careful with your words and understand that your children will feel the negativity you project. It is distressful and confusing for children to hear their parents calling each other names and making jabs about the other parent.   Talk about your ex-spouse in positive and happy ways and save your gripes for friends or your therapist.
  5. Don’t lean on your child for support.  A child should not be a source of emotional support for their parents.  Many children desire to please their parents, so be cautious not to turn to them in your times of emotional need.  If you notice your child wanting to be your support, thank them for their concern, let them know you appreciate their caring nature, and reassure them that you have people to support you. It is not their job to make you feel better.
  6. Be prepared to answer your kids’ questions.  Your children should not be left in the dark during this turbulent time.  Do your best to answer the questions they may have.   They may express concern around impending changes that are in store for the family.  Avoid details about the court case, finances, or insight into the relationship problems.
  7. Take care of your mental and physical health.  Your children watch the way you care for yourself.  Divorce is stressful and your body and mind will struggle.  Find outlets that help you through the difficult times. You may want to find a therapist or talk to a religious leader. You could take up a new hobby or find a support group.  When you get help, you are more able to help your children.
  8. Trust your instincts. Know your children. If you notice they are doing something different, address it with them.  Watch for changes in emotions and behaviors such as anxiety, sadness, issues at school or with friends, and changes in sleep patterns.  Most parents want to see their children succeed, and having two parents work together is ideal.

Anyone who has been a parent for long would do good to remember that just because you may break your child’s heart, doesn’t mean you break your child. Divorce is sometimes inevitable and with some healthy emotional resilience, you can help your kids navigate a difficult portion of life.  Do your best to stay emotionally strong for them.  Get the help you need, commit to new areas of growth, live your values, be positive, stay connected with others, forgive others, and seek new opportunities. Your children are learning from you whether you want them to or not.  They are watching the way you navigate the difficult times in your life and learning how to navigate their own difficult times.