Divorce is an unsettling experience for a child. Even under the best of circumstances, your kids are bound to get caught in the middle of disputes between you and your former partner. No magic words can make the hurt of divorce go away, but you can take steps to minimize the impact. The key is to set aside your differences and follow these seven decrees:
Don't compromise on custody. Custody arrangements fall into three categories: traditional, joint, and split. In a traditional arrangement, children live with one parent (who makes all the decisions), and visit the other parent on a regular basis. Joint custody is similar except that visitation is more flexible, and both parents agree to make parenting decisions together. In split custody, the children divide their time equally between each parent.
If possible, try to work out a traditional or joint arrangement. Split custody may quell your guilty feelings, but it only hurts your children. In fact, it's the most potentially disruptive arrangement for your kids. It often disrupts their academics, interferes with the formation of stable friendships, and breaks the continuity of discipline and routines.
Agree on regular, yet flexible, visitation. To soften the effects of divorce on your kids, make sure they have regular contact with the noncustodial parent. A predictable visitation schedule helps your children feel secure, although flexibility has its pluses. A less rigid schedule is more in tune with the ebb and flow of real life, creating a sense of normality and reducing the frustration that accompanies an unyielding routine.
Take good care of yourself. Studies show that the better the custodial parent adjusts to divorce, the better the children adjust. If you're the custodial parent, make sure you avoid falling into the trap of self-sacrifice. Get what you need to feel fulfilled.
Avoid unrealistic promises. Many divorced parents try hard to please their kids. As a result, they sometimes make unrealistic promises. Your children would rather that you keep your promise on an ice cream cone, however, than break your pledge of spending a weekend together. If an ice cream cone is all that you can deliver, tell them the truth. They'll appreciate your honesty.
Try not to compare households. In a perfect world, you and your former spouse would agree on everything concerning the kids, including rules, expectations, and discipline. In reality, your philosophies and methods of child-rearing will differ.
Such differences won't confuse your children as long as you and your former spouse clearly state what you expect from your kids and consistently enforce those expectations. However faulty your former partner's disciplinary style may seem to you, forget abut trying to compensate for it.
Treat one another with dignity. More than anything else, children need to have positive perceptions of both parents. A negative impression of one or both parents almost always leads to a negative self-image. Try to keep all of your negative opinions of one another to yourselves.
Resolve your conflicts. A child's adjustment is at risk when conflicts continue after divorce.