Whether you were married, living together, or in a committed relationship with your partner, parenting under the same roof provides boundaries and structure that are hard to maintain once separated. The key word is “hard” to maintain, not impossible. As stated last week, lack of support is often a big source of frustration and pain for dads (and moms) going through a divorce. There are hurt feelings, pain, and anger that cloud the judgment on both sides. The stability that was provided to your child when you were under one roof is now gone. While it may be hard, your main goal should be to surround yourself with support from those who love and care for you. Here are some things to remember and strategies to put into place as you develop a safe, supportive environment for your children.
- If it is possible and both of you agree to a healthy stable schedule, that same schedule should be maintained at both households. Transition is hard no matter what situation; changing households is no different. Co-parenting is the healthiest way to move forward, but it is not always possible. Rules should be agreed upon and carried over. If the partner is not willing to work together, then it is your duty to make a stable schedule, guidelines, and expectations when your child is at your house. Once the schedule, guidelines, and expectations have been established, they need to be firm and not movable. Children crave routine and in an unstable situation, transitioning between two homes, children need someone who will say, “This is how it is going to be.”
- Talk to your ex civilly and talk about your ex respectfully. Children repeat everything and pick up on anger, even subtle anger, easily. If you say things about your ex to your child, they will pick up on your attitude and either mirror it or take it to your partner, giving them future ammo. It is hard to think about and process but how you talk and parent your child will now be put under a microscope. It has the potential of being used by your ex to show why you should have less time with your child. Talking bad about your ex is not a healthy and does not bring about desirable outcomes for a young child.
- Recognize the extreme emotions involved in your situation and give your child grace. There have been many times I have heard, “They are doing this on purpose!” While this may be true, children are responding to an extreme situation the best they know how. Their lives have been disrupted and they are worried, scared, or mad; they may be feeling a lot of big feelings. This is where boundaries and rules come into place. Enforcing the rules are important, but it must be done with the understanding that your child is reacting to a scary situation, and that you love them. Love and grace need to be at the forefront of any interaction you have with your child during and after a divorce.
Divorce is a transition. It can be a difficult one, but it is an event that has a beginning and an end. The effects from the divorce however can stay with your child for a long time. You are hurt, angry, and frustrated, and now you must also deal with a child who is going through the same feelings or worse. Patience is key and understanding that they need you is going to be an important tool to getting through this while reducing lingering long-term challenges.
Drew Dilisio is the Community Support Specialist and Counselor at Good Dads. He is a recent graduate of Evangel University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a husband, and a father. He can be reached for questions or comment email@example.com