Every day we tell our children to stop arguing, stop being loud, stop touching each other… you know the drill. Just stop. And we expect them to do it.
When parents decide to divorce, children have their own list of things they wish we would “stop” doing. Stop fighting, stop being angry, stop saying mean things about each other and stop putting them in the middle. Just stop. And they really wish we would do it.
When you and the other parent aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, try not to lose sight of how things feel for your children. Seeing two people they love the most no longer get along creates a huge dilemma for kids. The question weighing on our children often becomes “How can I love one parent without upsetting or betraying the other?”
Parents who are constantly fighting with each other create a lot of stress for children. Many children live day-to-day afraid they might make things worse. When this happens, children might:
- Keep quiet about how they really feel.
- Tell each parent what they think the parent wants to hear.
- Try to be a peacemaker or negotiator between parents.
- Feel responsible for the conflict.
- Get drawn into adult issues.
- While you may not be fighting in front of your children, be aware that kids pick up on unspoken tension too. When parents ignore each other at events, refuse to communicate, openly criticize a parent’s choices or don’t treat each other with respect, kids notice.
To keep kids from feeling stuck in the middle or walking on eggshells, do your best to:
- Separate your hurt and disappointment from your Ex’s ability to be a good parent.
- See divorce through your children’s eyes.
- Send kids a clear message that they don’t have to pick or choose.
- Shield kids from disagreements or arguments
Tips for Parents
Be business like. No matter how long you’ve been divorced, you have a history together. You have a way of talking and behaving with each other. You know each other’s likes and dislikes, as well as, habits and pet peeves. Although your relationship as a couple has ended, your roles as parents will last a lifetime. Breaking free of that history and finding a new way to move forward is essential.
Respond don’t react. Sharing parenting responsibilities doesn’t mean you have to be available to your Ex 24/7. Aside from emergencies, very few situations require an immediate response. When a demanding email from your Ex pops into your inbox, resist the urge to fire one back.
Instead, give yourself some time to consider the issue. Ask yourself: Is this something that I need to respond to right now or can it wait? If it truly requires a response, then keep it short and to the point. Think of your reply as a Tweet or quick Facebook comment. Stay focused on the issue and leave the emotions out of it.
Keep it to yourself. When anger flares, words often fly right out of our mouths and into our children’s hearts. Kids literally think of themselves as half Mom and half Dad. When you say negative, critical or damaging things about your ex, it’s no different than saying them to your child. If Dad pops off with, “Your Mom is such a gold digger, she took everything,” Victoria has to wonder, “Am I that way too?” When Mom rants about what a loser Dad is, Caden may question, “Will Mom think of me the same way when I grow up?”
Whether your opinion of your ex is true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is what you say in front of your kids. Don’t expect your truth to be your children’s reality.
While you may be keeping your opinion to yourself, your Ex may not. Even though it may be tempting to give what you get, remember when you fight fire with fire, your kids are the ones that end up getting burned.
If you have questions about divorce, or would like to learn more about Peter J Fiorella, Jr & Associates, call us at (716) 200-1380