Ten Rules to Live by for Divorcing Parents

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  1. Make the commitment to live by the idea that divorce doesn’t have to equal war.

“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Your mental health and sense of hope about the future are worth more than any amount of money you can argue about. You may always have issues of disagreement, now and in the future, but remember that your children will model your behaviors and how you resolve conflicts. Do you want your child to grow up and experience the same level of stress that you go through when you and your ex-spouse can’t agree on anything? Remember that children do what you “do” not what you “say”. Pick your battles and think about the needs of your children before doing or saying anything you can’t take back later.

  1. Take your time, be easy on yourself and remember no one’s perfect.

Divorce is a time of restructuring. We all make mistakes in parenting, but it’s more important to learn from them and move on, focusing on what we can do better instead of on what we did wrong in the past. Give your ex the benefit of the doubt and address differences directly with them, and hopefully they will extend you the same courtesy.

  1. Never talk about the divorce, finances or any other “adult” subjects in front of the children.

Children respond differently to divorce in different age groups. But no matter what age their parents’ divorce, children shouldn’t have to worry about how daddy or mommy is going to pay the rent. Being realistic about financial constraints is one thing, but scaring your children by being overly dramatic about finances is emotionally scary for kids. Leave adult matters to the adults. They have their entire adult lives to worry about their own finances. Don’t burden your children with things they can’t control.

  1. Never make negative comments about the other parent to your children.

After a divorce, it’s not uncommon to see your ex-spouse become a different parent than who they were during your marriage. You might see your ex-spouse behave and act in a certain way with the kids that you disagree with. Communicate with each other about parenting matters, but leave the “you should do this with the kids” conversations away from your child’s earshot. The love of a parent is what children need for true emotional well-being. Divorce doesn’t in itself ruin children; it’s putting your needs before your children that is detrimental to them.

  1. Understand that an “address” doesn’t make a home and a divorce doesn’t mean you don’t have a family anymore.

Many couples argue sometimes about who gets to stay in the “family home”. Understandably, your house represents home and the family unit, and can be a painful thing to let go. But your family’s long term financial health is also very important. One household turns into two and many couples find the financial adjustment after a divorce very difficult. It may not make financial sense to hold on to a house if the market is good and you can make a sizable profit. Conversely, if the market is poor it might make sense to hold on to a house and rent it out. Seek advice from a neutral financial planner as you both restructure your lives as two separate individuals and two separate households. Understand that your “house” doesn’t make your “home”.

Additionally, divorce doesn’t mean your children don’t have a family anymore. Daddy is always daddy to them, and mommy is always going to be their mommy. Furthermore, that includes all the uncles, grandparents, cousins and extended family. Children need to know their extended family and their heritage and will thrive when both parents support their need to see all sides of their family.

  1. If you don’t care about the needs of your ex-spouse, why should they care about yours?

Many divorcing couples experience a myriad of emotions that sometimes last well into new relationships and re-marriages. Remind yourself that the impact that anger can have on your children and on your own health is more important than the actual issue you are angry about. You may not want to do anything to make your ex-spouse’s life easier in any way. But realize that co-parenting is a two way street. If they need to pick up the kids 30 minutes earlier or later due to traffic, so be it, and don’t lose your cool. One day you’ll be stuck in traffic picking up the kids. Your ex is hoping to switch a weekend night because he/she needs to go to a wedding or work-function? Guess what: one day you’ll be in that position and need some flexibility too. Being unreasonable and inflexible just out of spite will always backfire in your own life on so many levels.

  1. Don’t be overly-accommodating or indulgent with your kids out of “divorce guilt”.

Indulging your child’s every whim, request or desire will backfire as they get older. The message you send to them is that they will always get their way and you are easily manipulated. Children may want candy, but they need to have their nutritional needs met. Kids need your time, not your money. Filling your weekends with indulgent activities and over-extending yourself financially, is a recipe for disaster.

  1. Introducing the children to new love interests should happen very slowly.

If you have assessed that it is time to introduce your children to your new partner, go slowly in the beginning. It should happen in a neutral location that includes an activity, like bowling, or going to the zoo. Avoid going to dinner or lunch, as it may be too intense for children. Keep the first introduction lighthearted and process it with your children afterwards, if they want to talk. Don’t press, and give your children time to express their emotions. Many children grow up to be adults who have extremely close and fulfilling relationships with their step-parents. Understand that your children may have growing pains in meeting new people and allow the relationship to develop naturally. Playing board games or other fun activities will help break the ice in developing this relationship, instead of jumping into the “step-parent” role and trying to be the disciplinarian, housekeeper, and school chauffeur. Remind your children that daddy is always their daddy and mommy is always their mommy, and if they’re fortunate to have extra people in their life, it’s just more people who love them!

  1. Do not involve your children in scheduling complicated timesharing for holidays or other parenting decisions.

Avoid discussing time-sharing about holidays or other family decisions with the children. They may feel as though they are in a position to have to “choose”. Discuss these matters with your ex-spouse and support your children’s need to maintain close ties with their extended family.

  1. Be proactive with your life, your future and your restructuring.

This is a time for action! Your restructuring can be a positive, life-affirming event, if you allow it to be. Seek counseling with a neutral, clinical professional. You may find patterns in your life that will subsequently help you avoid repeating mistakes in the future. Additionally, the right counseling can help with any unresolved emotions as you move on with your life.

You may not be ready to “date”, but you are always ready to build new friendships and do things you never did before. Join a club, take up a hobby, learn to play an instrument, or train for that marathon you never had time for before. You cannot be a good parent unless you are whole again and you do not need a boyfriend or girlfriend for that. Restore your sense of self-worth by taking the time to make time for YOU.

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Siriporn Chuaindhara, LCSW, is a clinical therapist with over 16 years experience working with children and families in the child welfare system. She brings her vast experience of working and assisting families in co-parenting and helping them reach their true potential. She is also a Florida Supreme Court certified mediator and also serves on the board of Passageway Residence of Miami Dade.

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