When parents divorce, the most difficult part of the process is on the minor children of you and your spouse. It is so understandable to become prisoners of the moment and to concern ourselves only with the minutiae and the problems that arise in the divorce case itself. Who is getting what, the kids are going to be living where etc. that you may not consider fully the difficulties associated with raising a family in two separate households. There will certainly be challenges associated with this new set-up and some adjustment time will need to be provided to your children by you and your spouse.
Unfortunately, there may not be two people who are less equipped to provide these benefits to a child of divorce than the parents who are fresh off the divorce case itself. You and your ex-spouse may be great parents who want nothing but the best for your children. Unfortunately, when you go through a divorce it sets up something of a competition between the two of you in many areas of your lives but most notably in parenting your children. You want to present the best possible case to a judge and the other parent to “win” the best rights, duties, and time allocation that you can while the case is ongoing. The question that the two of you need to answer is: how do you turn off the emotions of being a competitive parent and shift gears to becoming co-parents?
Co-parenting is when you and your ex-spouse set aside your differences, embrace your common goals, and set out to raise a child together as a team rather than as competitors. This is difficult, as I'm sure you don't need me to tell you, given that your marriage is over. On many levels, it can feel unnatural to have to raise a child with a person that you used to be married to and have just gone through a tough divorce. However, that is exactly what you will be asked to do. For the sake of your child and their development, it is a challenge that you need to strive to do everything in your power to become capable of meeting.
Most people when they are maturing do not learn the skills necessary to co-parent. Parenting in and of itself is not easy (understatement of the century, I know). Having to set aside some of your wants, needs, and desires to put the life of a little person that you are in charge of raising is not something that we always want to do. Add to that the reality which you are facing in terms of needing to fulfill these obligations with a co-parent who you do not see eye to eye with on important topics and you have a potentially combustible situation. To assume that you will naturally overcome these challenges immediately after the end of your divorce is far from a sure thing. You may find out that the difficulties that you experience in your post-divorce life on a personal level are more stressful and challenging than you would have believed.
Fortunately for you, there are learning opportunities that will present themselves during the divorce case which will help prepare you for this undertaking. One of those learning opportunities is parenting classes which are offered mainly after divorce cases. These parenting classes aim to help you and your spouse learn the importance of your co-parenting relationship and its impact on your family. Make no mistake, children suffer after divorce cases when their parents do not take the responsibility to co-parent seriously. It may mean setting aside your ego to an extent, but you can co-parent to the point where your child can flourish after a divorce. At the same time, however, if you and your co-parent are not able to put into motion the sort of tips and lifestyle changes necessary to raise your child in this arrangement he or she can also go through a difficult time.
Whatever your mindset is after the divorce, your children are almost assuredly going through a hectic transition time right now. Their parents- their main source of stability in a world that can seem like it is ever-changing- are no longer married and no longer living in the same home. This can shatter a child's worldview and skew their perception of the world around them as well as cloud their future ability to see into the future and understand what is happening in their family. Their futures may seem far from assured given the nature of their home life and what they are experiencing.
As we mentioned earlier, the last thing that you may want to do right now is to try and work together with your ex-spouse on anything. You two have just spent an extended period trying to push apart from one another relationally, romantically, physically, and financially. Now that the divorce is nearing an end it can feel like a small defeat to have to go back and coordinate with your ex-spouse on topics related to your children. Disagreements over the children and how to raise them may have been an important reason why the two of you got divorced in the first place.
Parents like you and your ex-spouse can work together to raise your children as a cohesive team. Despite what you may have been told by friends, your family, and even your own lived experiences with your ex-spouse, the two of you can raise a child together. The key to your being able to do so, however, is to implement specific practices in your life that will better train your body and mind towards the single most important role that the two of you will share post-divorce: co-parent of your child. Without a focus on raising your child together as a team, the success rate in parenting is low. Rather, if the two of set out on different paths to raising your child, then you will likely find that there is no opportunity to collaborate and take part together in raising that child. It can once again feel like you and your ex-spouse are operating on different wavelengths and unable to work together to solve important problems.
Parenting classes help in communicate with one another
One of the most important tools that a parenting class can offer newly divorced parents is the opportunity to learn how to better communicate with an ex-spouse. Again, these are not lessons that we are taught in school or even in the real world of dating, courtship, and marriage. Being able to communicate with a person that you like, or love can be difficult enough as it is. Needing to be able to communicate with a person that you just finished divorcing can seem like a Twilight Zone level of irony and hardship that you need to endure. However, that is exactly the challenge that is set out for you. The more eager you are to meet that challenge the better off your child can come out of the divorce case.
For instance, a parenting class can help you and your ex-spouse to develop more effective ways to communicate with the other person on a routine, day-to-day basis. Whereas your instinct at this moment may be to yell or be less than pleasant to your ex-spouse in communication, a parenting class can help you to redirect those feelings and instead embrace the challenges that are a part of co-parenting. It can be something as simple as changing the format of your communication to better take on these challenges. Maybe a phone call per day or every other day works better than text messaging? Avoiding misunderstandings can be easier said than done when it comes to electronic means of communication. Being able to communicate effectively may come easier to the two of you by phone rather than over a text message, no matter how much easier it can feel to text someone rather than pick up the phone and speak to him or her.
Help with talking to your children during and after a divorce
At a certain point, depending upon the age of your children, they may start to wonder why their mom and dad do not live together anymore. Again, they are probably used to seeing the two of you in the same home together with him or her. While this may not have been an arrangement that was the best in marriage, it did present your child with a consistent view of what their life was and what your place within it was. Now that you and your spouse are no longer married that worldview is not as definite or as solid as it used to be. You and your co-parent must now pick up those semi-broken pieces and work to craft a new life for your children.
Ideally, this is a conversation that you can have with your children not only at the end of a divorce but at the beginning. By sitting down with your children together, in person in a comfortable environment the two of you can communicate that you are a joint effort and a consistent force for good in the life of your child. Otherwise, the message (whatever you want it to be for your children) can feel disjointed. If there are safety issues in communicating this message together then you should consider that. However, for most of you reading this blog post, there is utility in providing this message to your children together, in person in the same room as your spouse. Again, it may feel awkward and something that you do not want to engage in. However, the benefit to your family can be tremendous.
It sounds trite to say in a family law blog post, but it does make a difference to tell your children that you both love them and want to be there to support them through the usual peaks and valleys that children experience in their maturation. The irony may not be lost on your children that you are expressing your confidence in the strength of your family as you and your spouse are in the process of divorcing, but it is still critical that you try and reinforce the two elements of stability and consistency in their lives. That you and your spouse are the two tasked with having this conversation can be a bit of irony in and of itself. However, no two people are better suited to have the conversation with them than you and your spouse. Remember- to the rest of the world you are "Tom" or "Susan" or whomever. To your kids, you are so much more than that. Who you are as an adult in the world of relationships, work and the rat race means almost nothing to your child. What matters to him or her is the ability to communicate consistent love and a desire for a stable home environment for him or her.
What you don't need to do is sugarcoat, gloss over or be dishonest with your children about what the divorce will mean to him or her as well as your family. It does not pay to sugarcoat a situation that he or she is going to be able to perceive for themselves in a short period. You can speak with some degree of confidence at the end of the marriage, the immediate impact on their lives, and the expected changes that your family is going to see in both the short and long term. You don't need to tell your child the "gory" details of the divorce or list out for them every individual reason why you and your spouse are divorcing. That is superfluous and frankly too much information to provide to a child of any age. Putting the conversation into terms that your child can understand is critical.
Reinforcement of your love for your child may seem like something that you do not have to do. To you, it may feel like you have never loved your appreciated your relationship with your child more than you do at that moment. However, your child most likely does not know this. On the contrary, he or she may feel like what you are doing with the divorce is quite the opposite of love and affection for him or her. The process that you are undertaking may feel like a violation of their trust in you. Alienation is not uncommon in divorce scenarios. This means that your child, for a variety of reasons, may begin to feel like a distance has developed between the two of you relationally and physically. It is up to you and your co-parent to bridge that gap and reinforce your constant and never-ending love for your child. Without the knowledge that you both love your child, the other lessons and information that you seek to convey to him or she in this period of your life may fall on unreceptive ears.
Living in two separate households
Probably the starkest difference in the life of your child pre and post-divorce is going to two homes to see their parents rather than living with both of them in "their" home. It can take some getting used to for your child to learn the mechanics of getting in the car and driving across the neighborhood, town, or even state to see their other parent. You should take the time to help your child adjust, at least mentally to the idea of going back and forth between your home and that of your co-parent. Everyone, parents included, feels a bit anxious at the prospect of co-parenting across separate households. It is best to communicate this reality to your so they understand that it will be normal to experience some bumps in the road with this- at least at first.
If you know the upcoming possession schedule, then share it with your child. Depending upon their age this may mean breaking things down into microdoses for your child or just providing them with a 30,000-foot perspective on when he or she is going to see their other parent next. Many children will naturally "take sides" in the divorce and can be made to feel like seeing the "other" parent means being disloyal. You should do your best to reinforce the idea that it is good for the family for your child to have a strong relationship with mom or dad. This can be a difficult desire to express to your child at this time, but it is for the best and can be the difference between raising a child who feels stability in a post-divorce world and one who feels like the foundation of their life is rockier than not.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.