Divorce has long-term effects on children, such as abandonment issues, depression, and anxiety. Still, a divorce can sometimes be better for the children than growing up in a home where it’s obvious that the parents hate each other. When divorce is necessary, parents should pay very close attention to how the divorce affects the children.
1. Many people unintentionally place their children in the middle without thinking about it (and some, unfortunately, do it on purpose. This happens even with the most conscientious parents. Comments and questions that seem harmless to the parent can inflict stress and feelings of disloyalty on a child.
2. Watch what you say and watch what others say in front of the kids. Especially watch what your family says in front of the children because your family will probably be the other parent’s harshest critics and feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions. This caveat also includes your best friends and your lawyer (in fact, do not take your children around your lawyer unless you have no other alternative). This includes what you say on the telephone when your children are near. They may not hear you when you tell them that it’s time for bed, but they always hear anything that you don’t want them to hear or that you should not say. Be ready to tell others, "Not now, we'll talk later."
3. Be careful of non-verbal communication. Body language and facial expressions can clearly show anger and contempt for the other parent.
4. Do not ask questions about the other parent. You can ask general questions about the children, such as "Did you have fun at the baseball game?" but questions like, "Did your mom get anything new for her house?" or "Does your dad have a new girlfriend?" are inappropriate. Interrogating your children about the other parent is not only bad for them, bu it will often backfire on you.
5. Think about how to address important but delicate issues with your children. If the other parent has a substance abuse problem, often makes inappropriate decisions, or takes the children around inappropriate people, you might have to broach the issue with the children to ensure that they are safe. You may get advice regarding these issues from your family law attorney, therapist, or school counselor.
6. Do not try to make yourself look better than the other parent. For example, do not say things like, "I don't know about your mother, but I always manage to get off work for your soccer games no matter how busy I am." If you think that you are doing this subtly, think again. There is no subtle way to do this and your children are not stupid. Children notice things like this. They will also notice that you do in fact manage to leave work early for their soccer games. My daughter surprised me when she asked me why I always do the driving during her exchanges. I had never said a word about this to anyone, especially her. She noticed on her own when she was five years old. Children notice these things on their own.
7. Your children are not your confidantes, friends, or counselors. They are your children. Get the emotional support you need, but never from your children, no matter how mature you think they are. Treating your children, including teenagers, as friends, co-parents, buddies, or the "man of the house," is selfish and bad for the child. Also, the other parent can use it against you in court. Most importantly, be a parent.
8. Sooner or later, you will have to discuss things with the children. You must be absolutely honest with them, but you must also be ready to tell them that you will not discuss certain things with them.
9. Do not go straight into another serious relationship. Go slowly with dating new people. Be selective with who your children meet, even when the divorce is final. They should not meet various people that you date. If there is someone with whom you think you have a future, then wait to introduce that person to your children until they have time to adjust to the divorce.
10. Discuss the important life change of divorce carefully. For example, "I know a lot of things are changing right now; we'll adjust to it together. I love you and your mom loves you no matter what," is good. "Everything is changing because of our divorce. You have a lot to get used to," is bad no matter what tone of voice you use.
11. Do not ask your children or "allow" them to make major decisions about living situations, schools, and parenting time. You should listen to them, but you and the other parent should make the decisions based on their best interest. Be the parent. Do not let them feel that they bear the responsibility for what happens in the divorce.
It may be easier for me to write these thing than for you to do these things, but it will be worth it because your children will be happier and healthier. In time, you will be glad that you took the time and energy to do right by your children, even when it was very difficult.