Parenting is a rewarding and challenging experience; a blessing with lots of responsibility — and lots of challenges. July is Purposeful Parenting month, a time dedicated to raising awareness for parents about creating intentional, positive relationships with children. Purposeful parenting becomes especially important for divorcing or divorced parents. Children have a basic need for love and security and are especially sensitive to temperament changes of the home. Changes in routine or the absence of another parent or even the way you and your spouse act towards one another, can lead to a child’s negativity, acting out, self-doubt, feelings of abandonment, and many other issues common among children of divorced parents. Purposeful Parenting through divorce is one way to help your children navigate this transition in their lives, while fostering a close, caring and loving relationship between you and your children.
It’s easy to get caught up in a plethora of new life decisions and to focus all your energies on just getting through the divorce. While the divorce process is important, and it may seem that your children are doing “okay”, be aware of any – even the smallest – sign of distress. Things like low appetite, excessive tantrums, poor grades in school, and general disinterest, are all indications that they might not really be that “okay” after all.
As parents we often feel we need to keep it all together and have all the answers — even when we don’t. It’s important to be authoritative and provide direction as a parent, however, it’s equally important that you don’t put a false mask on everything. Assure your children that everything will be all right (which it will!), and that you are still able to continue to be a strong support system for them. Be authentic in your conversations with them though. It’s okay to show vulnerability and even uncertainty if that’s what you’re feeling. Your ability to be vulnerable and authentic will allow your children to see that it’s okay for them to be vulnerable and authentic in their conversations with you too. Children can thrive with even one parent who has good parenting skills.
Few things undermine a child’s sense of security and continuity than parents that disagree on parenting issues. During and after divorce it’s even more important to be on the same page, so that your children experience as much stability as possible during the divorce transitions. It’s not uncommon for divorcing parents to want to be “the good guy” and relax previous rules and regulations as a way to make up for the hardships they feel they’re putting their children through. Unfortunately, this creates even more confusion for children who, if anything, need additional structure and security in their lives at this time. It’s also not uncommon for parents to make up their own new parenting rules and exceptions – especially if they weren’t necessarily fully on board with compromises previously agreed to while parenting together. Remember the goal isn’t for one or the other of you as a parent to “win” – the goal is for your child to have the most positive childhood experience and upbringing possible. If you and your ex are at odds regarding parenting, get in alignment together first, so you can effectively co-parent for the benefit of your child(ren). Note: If your divorce is predicated on your ex being abusive or otherwise not a positive influence in your child’s life, and/or the courts have denied parental rights to your ex, then co-parenting is not necessarily recommended and the above recommendations can simply be adjusted for purposeful parenting as a single parent and extended family support. Further, sometimes you and the other parent just “agree to disagree” if you two have different parenting skills.
Purposeful parenting through divorce involves modeling to your children the behavior you’d like them to learn. Divorcing couples often find it difficult to refrain from bitter words and spiteful actions toward their ex partners. Regardless of whether or not you think your children can see or hear you, if you’re truly so angry or hurt that you can’t control negativity towards your ex, your children will feel it. Read our article on how Parental Alienation Can Hurt Your Kids for more on this subject. Also, examine the attitude you display when saying something about the other parent.
As the airline stewards all say, “Put your mask on first before helping others.” Divorce can be tough. It can be even tougher to manage if you’re so busy trying to take care of your child(ren) that you don’t take care of yourself too. Remember that your child(ren) are looking to you for re-assurance that things are, or are going to be, all right. Sleep, eat, and take time to keep yourself nourished (physically and emotionally), and you will be much better able to support your child(ren) through this difficult transition period to your new empowered life. Here are some additional San Diego Resources For Support During Your Divorce, and as always, please reach out to us if you need any legal support during your divorce.