Finding the right words when talking to your kids about a difficult subject is not something that just affects people who have gone through family cases. This is a problem that can impact families of all sorts, who are going through a variety of difficult circumstances. However, just because something is difficult does not mean that you can sidestep that experience altogether. You need to be able to talk to your kids about their life and yours, and about how your ex-spouse will work with you when raising your kids.
Your children may be extremely intelligent- I think all parents think that their kid(s) are smart. However, it is likely that they do not understand much about why you and your ex-spouse no longer live together. From a stability standpoint, this can be a devastating blow to a child even if you and your ex-spouse are doing all you can to reassure and provide consistency in whatever new living arrangements you find yourselves in. Seeing mom and dad in hope, working together and solving problems is something that children use to develop a sense of adulthood in themselves.
Here are some tips that I can share with you on how to talk to your kids about the situation involving you and your ex-spouse. These are tips that I have learned from talking to many people who have gone through similar situations as you over the past few years. Whie your situation may not be exactly the same as anyone else’s I think you can learn a great deal from the experiences of other people.
Honesty is always the best policy when sharing information with your child
First, you need to be honest with your kids above everything else. What has happened to your family and what your plans are for your family moving forward need to be discussed? However, there are some major caveats that I also need to share with you on this subject. First, remember that the age of your child will impact how much you tell him or her. A five-year-old cannot be talked to about subjects like this in the same way that a fifteen-year-old can. Keep this in mind when having this discussion.
The other big thing to keep in mind when having a talk like this with your child is that you need to carefully choose the language that you use. Letting snide or snarky comments come out about your ex-spouse will confuse your child and may even anger him or her. The purpose of having an honest conversation with your child is to reaffirm your love and promote a sense of stability in their life. Dragging your ex-spouse's name through the mud will not accomplish either of these objectives.
Love, love, love
Whether your child shows it or not, he or she craves your love, your approval and your time. These things can all be in short supply during a divorce and in the time period immediately following a divorce. Make sure that you are emphasizing how much you love your child and how he or she fits into your life now that you may be living in different places for much of the time.
Part of this is letting your child know that they were not the cause of the divorce. This is probably advice that you have received from other people or at least seen in places other than this blog post. Many kids believe that they are the cause of the divorce and that can harm their psyche a great deal as a result. Emphasizing that they did nothing wrong and that nothing was going to change as far as how much you love your kids can go a long way towards assisting in their transition into post-divorce life.
Consider counseling for yourself and your kids
Although the stigma surrounding counseling and therapy has faded to a large extent in recent years, there is some degree of hesitancy for many people when it comes to considering whether or not to attend counseling or therapy sessions. The world we live in today is ironically one of the loneliest when compared to generations past. This is ironic because we now have the capacity to talk to and interact with people around the world in the blink of an eye. However, the world has also become impersonal in many ways. You may have a thousand friends on social media but you may not feel comfortable sharing your feelings about your divorce with any of them.
Seeking a counselor or therapist to share your thoughts about divorce is a great idea for just about anyone. Most health insurance policies cover some degree of family counseling. These sessions can also be made available to your children. The format of the counseling sessions is typically different for adults. Child therapists use techniques that allow your kids to open up to them about their feelings in ways that you and your ex-spouse may not be able to do.
Going to therapy or seeking counseling is not a sign that you are weak or are mentally unstable. Doing so will not harm you in any way if you have to go back to court for a modification of the orders. If anything, your understanding that you need to talk to someone about your circumstances is positive for you and your life.
One last thing I want to mention about seeking therapy is that you should do so especially if you find yourself sharing more than you ought to with your children. Remember- there is a fine line between being honest with your kids about their life and over-sharing with parts of your life that are causing you stress. Your kids don’t need to know about your adult, relationship problems. Save those conversations for a therapist.
What to do when your kids visit with their other parent
This is an immediate consequence of your divorce or child custody case. You will find that there likely will be some degree of separation anxiety with your children when they leave you. It will take some time most likely for you and your children to all get adjusted to a new schedule and their having to leave your home to see their other parent. The back and forth of this process will need to become the new normal for you and your family.
If these back and forth visits are met with animosity and fighting at every pick-up and drop off that will only add to the problems. I have had more than one client who had to resort to doing pick up and drop offs at a local police station because other locations would end up with their ex-spouses acting foolishly towards them. Imagine being the child of these folks who have to walk into a police station to see their other parent. I think it's safe to say that there would be an impact on their long term mental health.
Your children are learning how to communicate with other people and how to solve problems by watching you and your ex-spouse maneuver through these pick-ups and drop off sessions. If someone were recording your behavior how would you look? Would a neutral party see a person trying to co-parent or an angry person not working well with others? The choice is yours to make and the impact of this choice on your child can be significant.
First of all, your kids need to be kept in the loop as far as when they will be at your home and when they will be going to see their other parent. Obviously a four-year-old cannot be expected to memorize a possession schedule, but you can share with him or her a day in advance of when it is time to start getting their belongings together to go visit their other parent. This will reduce the shock of changing homes for the week, weekend or whatever interval you all have in place for visitation.
Next, I think it is helpful for your child to understand that it is a good thing that he or she has a relationship with both parents. If you can tell your child that you approve of their going to see the other parent and that you hope he or she has fun that will help ease him or her into the transition of going to see their other parent. Kids can and do feel guilty about going and having fun with the parent who has visitation rights, for example. If you reassure your child that it is ok to be excited to go see that parent then you can develop an even stronger, healthier relationship with him or her.
Finally, you and your child's other parent are free to come up with your own visitation schedule on the fly. You do not need to feel bound by your court orders. Keep in mind that if there are disagreements or problems that the court orders act as a fallback provision. However, if you find that a particular aspect of your visitation agreement is not working you can always come to an agreement on the fly with your ex-spouse as to how you want to arrange a visit.
What you should not do when it comes to arranging your visitation schedule after a divorce
The whole point of co-parenting is being able to work out problems with your ex-spouse on a mutual basis. Do not make any changes or decisions without consulting your ex-spouse first. You need to help each other to feel like you are equal partners in this child raising relationship. Making decisions on your own can undermine any amount of trust that you are attempting to build with one another.
Do not have your significant another pick up the kids unless you absolutely have to
Typically, in a final decree of divorce, you will be able to list the name of a person or two that can substitute in for you on days when you need to pick up or drop off your kids with the other parent. Usually grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. are chosen and nobody really bats an eye. However, in some cases, you may have a "friend" who becomes more than that after the divorce who you want to slide into this role. I can tell you from experience that although it may make logical sense for you to do this- especially since you and that person may be living together. In practice, it can and will create a great amount of anger in most cases.
Your child’s other parent is already in an emotionally vulnerable position after the divorce. Now you are putting your significant other into a situation that is volatile? It seems like a lose-lose proposition to me. Consider easing your new love interest into roles like this over time. In the event that you are running late to pick up the kids consider having a parent or other relative that is close by fill in for you rather than a person that you are in a new relationship with.
Consistency- tomorrow’s blog post topic
We are going to pick up right where we left off in today’s blog post by sharing with you all about how consistency in co-parenting can make a huge difference for the better with the life of your children.
If you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are available six days a week to meet with you to answer questions and address issues relevant to your life.
Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to serve the people that we live alongside here in our community. We work tirelessly on behalf of our clients and their families to achieve goals in the courts of southeast Texas. To learn more about our office or to inquire about the services we can provide to you, contact us today.