This one is all about kids and divorce. Ask Divorce Coach is Women’s Divorce Coach’s divorce advice column. Have a question? Send it to Cindy here. It’s anonymous!
Dear Divorce Coach,
My partner and I have decided to separate. We’ve tried couples counseling with several therapists, gone on a couples retreat and even tried to open our marriage but nothing has worked. We constantly disagree and the tension is getting horrible in the house. We have tween twins and I am terrified to tell them that we have failed in our relationship and they must now deal with two households. We’ve read some books on kids and divorce but I am left with more questions than answers as there is conflicting advice in these books. At this point, I am not sure what to say (and what not to say). Do you have any tips?
– Terrified moms
Dear Terrified Moms,
First I want to commend you on coming together on this issue. It sounds like you both desire a good outcome for your kids through the separation of your household. It is totally normal to approach this conversation with some fear and trepidation. Dealing with kids and divorce can be tricky and sometimes it’s hard to find the exact words. I do have some ideas about what you want to communicate to the kids and I recommend you all sit down together at a time when you are well-rested and have the space to process questions they may have. Here are some of the basics you want to communicate:
- This divorce is not your fault. There is nothing about you or your behavior that has contributed to this decision to split.
- We will always love you and be your moms.
- You will not have to act as the go-between between us. We will communicate directly with each other.
- You have a right to your feelings about this separation/divorce. We will listen to and acknowledge your feelings openly without getting defensive.
- You are safe and we will try to make this transition as smooth as possible. We will inform you of upcoming changes and maintain your schedule as much as possible.
Here are things you want to avoid:
- Telling the kids too many details of why the romantic relationship has ended. You want to be honest, but you can be brief. “We don’t get along anymore and have tried hard to make it work, but we feel it is best to separate” is good enough.
- Blaming each other. This is about change, not blame. While you may have strong feelings about who is the catalyst for the split or who made hurtful mistakes in the relationship, keep this out of this and all conversations with your kids.
Dear Divorce Coach,
My wife and I are having issues co-parenting our son after our divorce. We have totally different ideas about what he needs from the amount of time on technology to what kinds of activities we want him in. For example, she has signed him up for soccer and he hates any kind of group sports. When a practice day falls on my day, I just don’t take him and this makes him happy. He confides in me about how much his mom doesn’t get our mutual interest in gaming and I tell him she never got me either. It seems to be bonding us together more. His mom also demands that he showers at least once when he’s at my house but I cave when he doesn’t want to. I don’t think it’s that important. I know it would be good for us to work together but I don’t want to follow her ridiculous rules. What do you think?
– Freedom loving dad
Dear Freedom Loving Dad,
You clearly want to have a good relationship with your son and spend time with him which is great. Being a single parent can be challenging and so is co-parenting with an ex that you don’t see eye to eye with. However, several of the things you have said concern me and I want to give you some things to consider.
For issues like taking a shower, ask yourself if you would make the same parenting decision if you were still in one household or if you were the only household. It sounds like you recognize that you are giving in when he doesn’t want to do something, but I also wonder if you are getting a charge from defying your ex-wifes’ wishes. Focusing on his needs and not want you get from it will keep you more child-focused.
Second, as tempting as it is and bonding it might feel to you, don’t make your child your confidant. Kids don’t need to deal with adult problems, especially when they involve their other parent. Telling him your ex-wife doesn’t understand you is not appropriate. It borders on putting down your ex. Kids love their parents and identify parts of themselves with their parents. When you start saying negative things about a parent, the child can feel like this is a reflection on them as well. It creates shame and guilt and an unhealthy identity for the child.
It sounds like you might need to have a polite conversation with your ex-wife about your feelings around activities and household rules. While it is great for kids to have rules be the same across households, there may be a place of compromise on some issues.
Dear Divorce Coach,
My husband and I have explosive fights around the kids. I try not to react so strongly but when he comes at me I need to defend myself. We don’t get physical but the yelling is pretty bad. My kids seem afraid of my husband sometimes and I don’t blame them. We haven’t really talked about divorce but my kids have asked me several times if we are getting divorced. I’m not sure that divorce is the answer. I think it would do more damage than good. Am I wrong?
– Fighting mom
Dear Fighting Mom,
Many studies that involve kids and divorce have shown that it’s the conflict around kids that causes the most damage, not the divorce. Kids are powerless to do anything about the fights they witness and many spend their time trying to be peaceful mediators, play the adult or perfect kid, and fix things for their parents. Your kids have already expressed fear of your husband and know that the conflicts have gotten intense. I urge you to take the fighting away from the kids whether you are still together or you separate.