I, myself, am a child of divorce and sadly, my earliest memory is of my father with a lamp in one hand and a suitcase in the other, down on one knee telling me he loved me and he was going to go stay at Grandma’s, because “there wasn’t enough room in the bed with me sneaking in every night.”
So as you can imagine, rule number one of Divorcing With Children: Be VERY careful how you explain to your children the situation at hand. Be honest but age appropriate at all times. Let them know what to expect and what you expect of them in return, and always give them the space and the freedom to let you know how they feel. As much as it will be painful for you, the pain is beyond severe for a child whose whole world is being shaken up by the two people who mean most to him.
I have since asked my father why on God’s green Earth he would say that to me, a two-year old! His response was that he was young and they didn’t have Dr. Phil back then giving instructions on how to properly divorce. I understand now, as an adult, but for years I felt responsible for the break-up of our family and that’s something no child should ever have to shoulder.
Our family situation was a bit different in that I have a younger brother; in the custody settlement, my brother went to live with my father and I stayed with my mother. As someone who has been there, I can say with great honestly, please don’t do this to your children. Do everything you can to keep them together.
Kids have a way of turning just about everything into a fair/unfair situation, from games to ice cream scoops, there is always someone who is going to get more or have an advantage. Splitting your children up will only set up the ultimate competition with one wondering why them and not me? To this day, my brother and I have a strained relationship because of this very thing.
Next in the rules for Divorcing With Children: Be kind to one another. No matter what your ex-spouse did to you, you have no right to impart your own opinion of them on to your children and, believe me, your children will notice. Like it or not, your ex is the mother/father of your child; you chose them, and your child has every right to still love them even if you don’t anymore. Honestly, if they are that terrible of a person, your child will figure it out on their own.
All those years I listened to my mother bash my father for everything from top to bottom and not once, ever, did I hear my father say an unkind word against her. And sadly, as I got older this affected my relationship with my mother. I still loved my father and would then take personal offense when I would hear her speak so unkind of him. Her trying so hard to turn me against him then backfired on her.
Lastly, just because you and your ex-spouse are no longer under the same roof, it doesn’t mean the same parenting rules don’t apply, and by this I mean always always remain a united front. Kids will always try to pit their parents against one another even in the happiest of happy families, so be prepared for this by staying in contact with your ex about issues dealing with the children. If one parent says no to a bike/car/date/etc. then the other parent should as well. It gets way too easy for a child to take advantage of the every-other-weekend mess.
There are resources upon books upon news articles all aimed at helping lost and hurting families through this terrible time, but I found they were all written from the clinical therapist perspective. It took until I was in my 30’s to ever ask what really happened and why, but I was glad when I finally did. Letting this information go will be something you as a parent will have to decide. In the end, that’s a private situation between you and your ex-spouse. But for me, knowing and hearing helped to release any residual blame I had put on myself, giving me an understanding of why things happened the way they did and in turn strengthen my own marriage.
Divorce is an ugly terrible thing that unfortunately some families have to deal with, but it doesn’t have to have lasting effects on your children. As long as you (and your spouse) take the time to be available and listen, you and your family can make it out the other side stronger and happier for it.