The short answer is…that’s up to you. Ideally, you will have cooperation from your spouse. Children generally need the love and support of both parents in order to thrive regardless of whether their parents remain married.
The term “divorce” refers simply to legal status. It’s the hostility that often accompanies the divorce process that can do the most damage to your children, both psychologically and emotionally.
According to studies, children tend to identify with both parents and to want to please each one. Therefore, if you talk negatively about the other parent, stop immediately. While bad-mouthing your co-parent might feel good in the short term, consequences include teaching your child to feel badly about himself. He might also learn to tell you what he thinks you want to hear simply to avoid conflict.
Bad-mouthing might also encourage your children to go out of their way to avoid conflict in personal relationships as they grow older. They might not learn that some conflict is a normal part of life and will not know what to do when it inevitably arises. Therefore, strive to keep your children “top of mind” before you act.
While it is common for one parent to believe that the other is unable to parent as effectively, particularly with respect to the children’s day-to-day needs, you might keep in mind that while your spouse might have his or her own way of parenting, this is not always a bad thing. For instance, it might give your child the opportunity to be exposed to differing perspectives from which to view the world and new experiences.
What You Can Do Now
1. Take responsibility and take action. Actively engage your spouse in how you will tell the children about the divorce and be specific in terms of what they can expect. Present a united front for your children. Seek help with the communication from a reputable family therapist with particular expertise in child development.
2. Be present and listen to your children. Be available as a sounding board to listen to their feelings. Don’t try to minimize or discredit how they feel, simply listen and validate. Strive to address any anger or hurt feelings separately from being present with your child, such as with the help of a trusted friend or mental health professional.
3. Improve your communication skills. For starters, consciously pause and reflect before speaking when your children are around. Before you say anything, first assess the effect your words are likely to have on them. Learn the communication skills needed to successfully co-parent. Read books and articles on the subject. Seek co-parenting counseling as necessary.
4. Don’t rush into introducing your children to a new partner. It’s very important to allow your children the necessary time to grieve the loss of their family unit. Seek the advice of a professional counselor who works with children. You might also seek resources from the school guidance counselor on support groups.
5. Work Together. It’s often a good idea to have similarity between households in terms of values, house rules, and disciplinary measures to maintain as much consistency as possible for the children, particularly when they are younger. The parent with more responsibility for the children’s day to day activities might share with the other parent a list of the children’s food preferences, daily routines and responsibilities, such as bedtime and dinner time, favorite movies and activities, and homework times. He or she might also suggest to the other parent effective ways to encourage the children to behave and how to communicate with them. This would go a long way to establishing a positive relationship between the children and the other parent and also between you as co-parents, which in turn, is again good news for the children!
Please feel free to reach me at (973) 292-9090 for more information or to schedule a consultation and plan a strategy that is best for you.