There is no question that divorce affects the whole family. As a marriage dissolves, both parents and children must learn to adapt to a new way of life, a new normal. No two situations are the same. The adjustment process will look different for everyone, but hopefully, parents can rise above the conflict in order to help their children make the transition as smoothly as possible.
Throughout the course of a divorce, there are many legal and logistical decisions to be made, but there will also inevitably be a full range of emotions to be processed through. In the midst of it all, there are a few things that can be done to ease the burden on children.
“Children benefit from emotionally stable parents—adults who are recuperated enough, in the case of divorce, to focus on the basic job of parenting,” explains Wendy Paris of Psychology Today, citing Michael Lamb’s meta-study, “Mothers, Fathers, Families, and Circumstances: Factors Affecting Children’s Adjustment.”
Paris goes on to say, “Because we understand that being emotionally present for our children rests on our own recuperation, we can prioritize taking care of the care-givers, ourselves. We can create positive moments for our children that have nothing to do with the state of their parents’ love life. We can foster engagement in outside activities and with other supportive adults.”
Here are four ways to be a better parent after your divorce:
1. Establish Stability
“Because we know that children benefit from stability, we can focus on establishing new routines that work in our newly structured lives,” says Wendy Paris. Life is going to look very different after a divorce with their time split between parents, but children thrive with structure and predictability. Find what works for your family – share meals together, participate in a family activity, establish a morning or bedtime routine. Whatever it is, do it consistently and predictably.
2. Exercise fair discipline
“Discipline is the structure that helps the child fit into the real world happily and effectively. It is the foundation for the development of the child’s own self-discipline,” according to this article in Paediatrics & Child Health. “Effective and positive discipline is about teaching and guiding children, not just forcing them to obey. As with all other interventions aimed at pointing out unacceptable behavior, the child should always know that the parent loves and supports him or her. Trust between parent and child should be maintained and constantly built upon.”
Life during and after a divorce is going to be difficult on children; they may act out in ways that are uncharacteristic of their normal behavior. They may try to push boundaries to see what they can get away with. They may reach out for attention, affection or affirmation in a negative way. As parents, it’s important to find and understand the cause of the negative behavior to focus on, rather than simply dishing out consequences.
The author goes on to say, “The goal of effective discipline is to foster acceptable and appropriate behavior in the child and to raise emotionally mature adults…The foundation of effective discipline is respect. The child should be able to respect the parent’s authority and also the rights of others. Inconsistency in applying discipline will not help a child respect his or her parents. Harsh discipline such as humiliation (verbal abuse, shouting, name-calling) will also make it hard for the child to respect and trust the parent.
Thus, effective discipline means discipline applied with mutual respect in a firm, fair, reasonable and consistent way. The goal is to protect the child from danger, help the child learn self-discipline, and develop a healthy conscience and an internal sense of responsibility and control.”
3. Provide love
While loving your child may seem like a no-brainer, children experiencing divorce and the changes caused by divorce need to know they are loved unconditionally. Realizing that mom and dad don’t love each other any more may instill fear that their actions could cause love for them to be taken away. Take the time to understand how your child best receives love – a great way to assess this is using The 5 Love Languages tool. Whether its words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch, be sure to show love in the way that is most meaningful to your child. Do your best to give your ex opportunity to do the same.
4. Be emotionally responsive
Helping your children cope with divorce and process through their emotions may feel like a daunting task. It may even feel impossible when you are deep in the trenches of managing your own feelings, but keeping the lines of communication open and teaching them healthy coping mechanisms, including self care, journaling and other stress-relieving activities will prepare them to handle life long after divorce.
If you are dealing with a divorce, child custody, child support or other family law issue, Alabama Law Group is here to help. We are dedicated to providing compassionate counsel to our clients. Contact us today at 256-859-7277.