You may have decided to end your marriage, but with a young family, you still face years of co-parenting with your ex. There are ways of having a good divorce and raising happy children with minimal emotional upset.
Here are some best practices to set you on the right path:
- Let the kids come first. You may disagree on a lot, but at least try to agree that the children come first and the adults emotional baggage and private agendas come second.
- Use collaborative law. Utilize the new collaborative law and mediation processes. Your separation will be more amicable. The legal bills really hurt the economic backbone of a family and your children will ultimately pay the price.
- Get counseling. Even the best, conflict-free divorces benefit from having a professional help family members transition out of the nuclear family and into their new arrangements. Grieving the life you had and working to create a new vision of the future will help everyone land more gently.
- Act happy (even if you have to fake it). The most stressful problem for children is seeing their parents in conflict and feeling split loyalties. Kids love both their moms and dads, so if they see divisiveness, they don't know where to place their affections. If they love Mom, it's an act of going against Dad and vice versa. This is the hardest emotional bind for a child. Instead, show your children you both get along (or at least don't hate one another). That means no bad-mouthing the other parent, no dirty looks, or asking the child to deliver snarky messages or spy on the other.
- Agree to disagree. I promise you, it's the actual fighting and conflict about minutiae (like how to handle homework, discipline differences, bedtimes, what the kids eat etc.) that hurts kids, not the staying up late, watching Call of Duty, and skipping assignments. Let the other parent do things their own way and support the idea that kids can handle two houses having two different styles and rules. Decide what's worth fighting for. If you agree you should not "sweat the small stuff", but you wonder what is "small", let me share what courts agree you should speak up about.
- Safety: Abuse or neglect
- Travel: Extensively being away, distant, remote or unreachable
- Health: Refusing chemotherapy, blood transfusions, vaccinations, etc.
- Education: Sending them away to boarding school/military school or other non-main stream settings
- Religion: Excessive pressure or conversion to a known religious cult or extremist group
Are you getting a sense of the scale now? So, fighting about trans fats in fast food isn't the way to go. You'll probably do more psychological damage to your toddler watching you bicker over it.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t MIsbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.