Normally, Johnny is excited about Christmas. In the past, he always celebrated Christmas at his house, receiving one special “early” gift on Christmas Eve. He put out cookies for Santa with his mom before his dad tucked him into bed. But this year is different.
Johnny doesn’t know how to feel because his parents split up last year. His parents had to sell the house he grew up in. His mom is in a townhome and his dad is staying in an apartment with a friend across town. What’s worse is that his parents are asking him where he wants to spend Christmas this year. Johnny is appreciative that they are asking his opinion, but unsure of what to do. If he chooses to have Christmas with his mom, he knows that his dad will be sad and maybe even angry. He feels pulled in two directions.
This hypothetical scenario paints a sad but accurate picture of the conflicting feelings kids must navigate when their parents split up. Outside of the spouses themselves, kids are typically impacted the most by divorce.
There is simply no sugarcoating it: Divorce is never easy for kids. But there are 4 steps parents can take to help children navigate divorce and mitigate some of the pain–even in small ways.
Steps to Help Children Navigate Divorce
Step 1: Tell the Kids There is No “Good Guy” or “Bad Guy” in A Divorce
First and foremost, watch how you discuss your divorce with your kids and temper your language. The overarching message is that both parents still love the kids and will always be there for them. Even though these relationships will now be separate, kids need to know that they have the right to love and to be loved by both of their parents without any pressure of a guilt trip or disapproval.
The circumstances precipitating the divorce, or one spouse’s culpability, really do not matter when it comes to parenting your children. While it is tempting and even validating to confide in your child that it was your ex’s fault, over-sharing details of this nature can result in resentment and bitterness. Remember to protect your kids by shielding them from some of the less becoming details.
Step 2: Communicate About Big Changes with the Kids
Divorce can disrupt a child’s world. It may change where they live, where they go to school, the makeup of their social circles, and most obviously, the level of accessibility to each parent on a given day. It is important for both parents to ramp up communication with the kids before these major changes hit. Even though the parents are continuing life separately from each other, their decisions are not made in a vacuum and typically impact everyone in the pre-divorce family nucleus. Clear communication is key to help children navigate divorce.
Step 3: Split the Costs
Both parents shared a financial obligation to care for their child before the divorce. That responsibility continues during separation and after the divorce until the child is at least eighteen, and arguably through their traditional college-aged years. Regardless of who might be required to pay child support, who has primary custody, and what each parent’s financial status looks like beyond the divorce, the duty to care for your child should remain a shared goal.
Far too often, co-parenting contains elements of bickering that lead to money fights because one party feels they are pulling more than their fair share of the weight for expenses. There will be times that you may be contributing more money, time, or resources, but try not to keep score and instead focus on what’s best for your kids. It’s important to recognize this a complicated issue and is never as easy as splitting childcare bills down the middle.
Even aside from divorce, raising children in and of itself is expensive and requires a plan. Each spouse should consider working with a financial advisor to establish short-term and long-term goals. In the short term, consider how to budget for items like groceries, cell phone bills, health insurance, and sports/recreational needs. In the long term, consider big-ticket items like college tuition or weddings.
Step 4: Plan to Co-Parent for the Long Haul
The duty to co-parent your children continues post-divorce. Adopting a mindset that allows you to sever ties with your ex-spouse while pushing forward in a continued relationship as parents for your child is not easily or quickly done. Keep the child’s feelings and needs at the forefront of the life decisions you will be making. Regardless of how you may feel, as the parent it is certain that you will remain among the most influential forces in your children’s lives. They deserve the hard work and effort that it takes to effectively co-parent after divorce.
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