Q&A: Helping our children through divorceWritten by Wendy Kittlitz
Question: My wife and I have decided to divorce, but we honestly want to do right by our kids. What advice would you have to help us try to keep their needs uppermost in our decision making?
I deeply appreciate your desire to "do right by your kids." I will also tell you honestly that the very best thing you could do for your children is to find a way to love each other and reconcile. Children do their best when raised in a home with a mom and a dad who love each other and them.
However, that was not actually your question, so let me address what you have asked. First of all, do everything you can to keep a few values in mind.
The first is to maintain respect for one another in front of your children. This means that each of you should speak well of one another, affirming that even though you have differences, the other parent is a good person who cares deeply about them and that you will always support them to have an open and loving relationship with the other parent.
Second, make it your goal to facilitate as much positive interaction between you as possible in negotiating childcare arrangements. A 50-50 arrangement may not be the best arrangement and factors like the age of your children, where you will each live and what each parent’s availability is will all be factors. Leave room for give and take and be gracious about it.
Third, don’t use your children as a dumping ground for your grievances with one another. Many children get emotionally "held hostage" when one parent uses the little bit of control they have left over the other by sabotaging visits, refusing to bend to accommodate changes, or making children feel guilty about caring for the other parent. Always affirm that you want to make it easy for them to spend time with both of you and then make it easy for them to do so!
If children are old enough, consult them about what they want. As they get older, be willing to renegotiate to meet their changing needs. Do whatever you can to keep good lines of communication open between them and each of you.
Finally, be responsible for your own needs. It is not your children’s job or your ex-spouse’s job to meet your needs. If you will be lonely when they are away from you, find ways to enjoy the solitude or make some new friends. If you resent them spending time with the other parent on special occasions, take that hurt to God or talk it over with a counsellor rather than making your children feel guilty. Remember that it is your job to take care of your children and not the other way around. Too often, it seems as if children are expected by their divorced parents to make all the adjustments.
Remember that your children had no say or control in this decision and they almost certainly would not have chosen to be in this place if they had. I so affirm your goal to not make this any harder on them than necessary and I hope these tips can help you do so. If a consultation with one of our counselling team would help you figure out some issues specific to your family, feel free to call us at 1.800.661.9800 and ask for the care associate to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our professional counsellors.
Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries at Focus on the Family Canada.
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