Let’s face it divorce can be tough. It’s an unknown territory that will twist and test you in ways you’d never predict. And while it is difficult for us as adults to navigate, imagine what it can be like for our children. The two most important people in a child’s life are breaking up, their world is changing and they have zero control over it. Children have limited experience with relationships; and to put it simply, they have young emotional frameworks that don’t help them navigate divorce.
In saying all of this, let’s imagine a scenario where we role model this change in life as “normal”. And while we may struggle with the idea that divorce is “normal”, we cannot argue the fact that divorce is common. Is it ideal? No. Is it a happy experience? No. But like anything in life, it is what we make it. And while the divorce rate in Alberta hovers around 45%. We need to see this for what it is. Nearly half of Albertans are divorcing. Nearly half! So when will there come a time when we embrace divorce for what it is and help ourselves and our children navigate this common thing that is happening around us?
No matter how difficult it is to let go of a partner, an inner strength needs to surface for the sake of the children involved. And this purpose will help heal you as well. So stepping up is a win win. Kids of divorce suddenly have two houses, two Christmases, two opinions, and two parents who no longer share a home… why does this need to be littered with stress and sadness? Sure, they will have questions, and fear, but if their parents can separate from a place of calm and authenticity … they deserve kudos. Putting their children ahead of every decision allows kids to experience divorce from a place of “it will be okay” as opposed to navigating white water rapids without a paddle.
What would it look like if we could divorce without conflict? Our kids would know no different … this two home situation would just be the way it is. If we are able to separate and divorce without conflict the children would no longer be bombarded with the internal self-talk that has them believing that they are responsible for the family break up. They would no longer be introduced to this heavy burden, never mind carry into their adulthood.
Divorce without conflict requires courage and an on-going supply of strength, compassion and deep breathes. More specifically, here are a few ways in which you can reduce conflict in divorce:
- refrain from saying anything negative about your ex in front of or in ear shot of your children. Your children share your ex’s DNA and therefore whatever you are saying about their other parent you are essentially saying about them. Sit in your car, hire a therapist, take a friend out for a drink and get it out … but first and foremost protect your kids from hearing it.
- tell your family and peers that they also need to not talk about your divorce. Kids hear conversations when you least expect it and therefore those are the conversations they shouldn’t hear! A simple email to your family and friends requesting they refrain from talking about your personal situation because it only adds fuel to the fire and you are aspiring, as a refurbished family, to reduce the negative impact on your children.
- recall and share family memories. You can’t erase life and allowing your children to hear and share positive things about the other parent confirms your love for your child. Taboo subjects create tension, eggshells and ultimately an unsafe, unpredictable environment.
- keep day to day life as “normal” as possible. Kids need consistency and traditions.
- don’t introduce a new partner until after the kids have had a chance to experience all of the post divorce ‘firsts’. The first Christmas, the first birthday, the first father’s day, the first family holiday, etc. This first year of transition is a space where healing and re-setting needs to occur and if a new partner is introduced too soon and before the kids are ready, not only will they not embrace this new person they will resent you.
- accept the fact that there will likely be conflict between the two of you. Just ensure that your kids don’t see, hear or feel it from either of you.
The way that you handle this thing called divorce will directly affect your future relationship with your children. It’s that simple. The moments are emotionally driven and negative impacts can be long lasting. Children know and trust in what we role model. What they see and experience is their reality. This is a moment where we can choose to be courageous. Where we pull up our socks and take the right road by putting our children first. This will ensure that kids and divorce have family memories they can call on, not life long scars that haunt their future relationships.