When parents are divorcing, the issue that comes up the most is how much time each party will have with their children after the divorce concludes. Everything else- property, child support, retirement savings, the family house- takes a backseat to the idea that parents want to be able to spend as much time as possible with their children. This is understandable. The reality is that if you are going through a divorce that you will not have as much time for your children that you once did. It is not much you can do to avoid this. However, there are things that you can implement in your life and those of your children after the divorce to make this transition smoother.
You and your ex-spouse must have time with your kids after the divorce. You are simultaneously continuing to build your relationship with your child and re-building it after the hardships of the divorce. The dynamics of your family are different now than they were before. The last thing you want to do is expose your children to more difficulties during the initial months of post-divorce life. Many people in your position find out that visitation time can be a setting where parents do not necessarily handle this transition all that well.
Think about your divorce for a moment. Were you and your spouse amicable with one another? Did you seek the best interests of your children at all times and put your wants and desires on the backburner? Ideally, this is what happened to you and your family. On the other hand, many families are not able to go through a divorce in this way. You and your spouse may have faced long-standing issues that led to the divorce and made the process full of conflict. Were you and your spouse at odds over seemingly every point in your case?
If so, there may be a temptation to allow those hurt feelings to carry over into your post-divorce life. It would be easy for you to ruin the visitation experience of your children with the other parent. However, you need to know that if you want your children to make it through these visitation experiences with happy memories, it is up to you and your ex-spouse to ensure that this happens.
Both of you need to be on the same page and understand that both of you have an equal right to have relationships with the children and spend time with them. Neither one of you is a superior parent. Even though you all may share time with the kids unevenly, with one of you being able to spend more time with them, neither of you is the lead parent. Both of you share responsibilities with the other and rely on the other to be the parent that your children need. It may be tough to think about it in these terms, but you are all still a team even though you spend months divorcing one another.
What are some achievable goals for you and your ex-spouse to implement?
I find that sometimes parents come out of divorce like a rocket ship- propelled by the desire to do everything that they can for their kids. There is no gift too expensive, no kind words that shouldn't be given, and nothing too complicated for them to share. However, I would argue that it is not always the best thing for your kids to get everything their heart desires immediately after the divorce. The initial thrill of constantly getting, getting, getting can paper over their actual feelings of hurt and sometimes even anger. Rather than delaying the pain of dealing with these issues, I would attack them early on once your divorce has been finalized.
A person that I have a great deal of respect for is fond of saying that your goal is not to raise good kids as a parent. Instead, your goal should be to raise good adults. It is all well and good to have a child who is seemingly quiet and well-behaved. You may even find that your hair greys at a slower rate because of it. However, if those kids are either distracted because you have bought every handheld video game under the sun for them or are quiet because they are sad at losing the family they loved, that is not a good thing.
For the sake of your children (and their future spouses), I would recommend that you and your ex-spouse coordinate your efforts to ensure that your kids have a shot at healthy and happy children that will allow them to grow up into healthy, happy adults. Please do not underestimate the little things when it comes to raising kids. You would be surprised to learn how much your children observe by being in the home with you. Seeing how you treat people, even an ex-spouse, can profoundly impact how your children are being raised.
Encourage visitation with your ex-spouse to your kids.
It would help if you approached visitation with your ex-spouse in a positive manner. Again, this does not mean that you need to trumpet the greatness of your ex-spouse constantly. Nobody expects you to be a cheerleader for your ex-spouse. However, you can treat them with respect and make sure that your kids understand that it is essential that they have a relationship with both parents. Do not degrade your ex-spouse- no matter how good it would make you feel at that moment.
The fact is that your children will have visitation with your ex-spouse for a long time coming. Even if they are in high school, your kids will have years of going back and forth between houses to see both you and your other parent. This can become tedious and emotionally difficult if your kids think that you do not want them to see your ex-spouse or make it clear that you do not support their relationship with them.
The best thing that you can do about your kids and your ex-spouse is to be as supportive as you can be. Somewhere between telling the kids that you hate your ex-spouse's guts and telling them that your ex-spouse is the greatest thing since sliced bread seems appropriate. If you tend to go towards either extreme, it is possible that your child could be confused and become disenchanted with visiting with either parent. That is the last thing that you want to see happen.
Encourage your child to enjoy spending time with the other parent.
This will affirm your child's love for you and your other parent. Just because you and your ex-spouse divorced does not mean that it is time to help your child play favorites. Children are pretty adept at pitting their parents against each other to get what they want. You should not do anything to help further your efforts to do so. If you can put up a united front with your ex-spouse to help maintain consistency in parenting, then you are off to a good start.
If you repeat anything to your kids, it should be normal and appropriate that they love both you and your ex-spouse. This is where you need to explain to them that just because you and their other parent are no longer married does not mean that this changes anything about the love both of you have for your kids. You may be surprised to learn that your kids may think that you do not care about them as much because you got divorced. Sometimes kids even think that they were the cause of the divorce.
If you can show your kids that it is appropriate to love both of their parents, then you are off to a great start in your post-divorce life. Be careful how you speak about your ex-spouse in front of the kids. How you feel about your ex-spouse will have a significant impact on how your child feels about them. You may be angry inside, but don't let that anger impact your ability to parent your children. Part of parenting is modeling healthy and appropriate behavior towards the people in their lives.
If not love, then indeed respect should be shown towards your ex-spouse.
I have seen some spouses in divorce cases show legitimate love and affection for their ex-spouse. Despite all the hardships that these folks put each other, they can still express love for one another. These types of people encourage me. It takes a big man or woman to set aside their differences and acknowledge that there is plenty to love about ex-spouse. Just because their marriage is over does not mean that they cannot appreciate the impact that each of them has had on the other spouse's life.
This brings me to how they can positively impact your children. If you show respect towards an ex-spouse, then this provides several teachable moments for your kids. Number one, it shows the kids that they, too, should love their other parent. If you were named as the parent who has the right to determine the primary residence of your kids, then you will be given more time with them as a result. It would be easy for you to use this time to harp on your kids about how bad your ex-spouse is. This would be unproductive, however.
Remember- just because you can say something wrong about an ex-spouse doesn't mean that you should. Your final decree of divorce likely includes some provision that bars you from doing so. This means that you may face potential legal impacts of bad-mouthing your ex-spouse in front of the kids if they would happen to hear about it. Kids tend to repeat things without thinking about them, so the odds of your ex-spouse finding out about what you said are pretty high.
Another thing that I will mention to clients is that it takes more effort and burns more calories to be rude and disrespectful to another person than it does to be cordial and respectful. Looking the other way is a better reaction than yelling or screaming at your ex-spouse when you exchange the kids for visitation sessions. If you are so mad at this person, wouldn't it make sense to want to expend as little energy as possible in dealing with them? When dealing with an ex-spouse, you do not need to go to an extreme (one way or the other). Be polite and respectful. It makes you look good, and it helps your child understand that it is ok to love both parents and takes less energy than being a negative, spiteful ex-spouse.
Be consistent when it comes to parenting.
If you and your ex-spouse can follow these rules, then you will be off to a great start. Consistency and stability are two things missing from your child's life in the wake of a divorce. That doesn't have always to be the case, but it is invariably true that your child's life will change in some regard in relation to your divorce. Why not seek to be a person that your child can look up to when it comes to dealing with difficult circumstances?
How to make visitation work well for your family- tomorrow's blog post topic
If you have any questions about the material we talked about 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 here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to ask questions and to receive direct feedback about your own particular circumstances.