All parents worry about their children, and for parents who are separated, the worrying is exacerbated. Would the children have been better off if they had “stuck it out” until the children are out of the house? Are the children being denied a “happy childhood”? The list of worries goes on and on.
The truth is that divorce does not have to affect your child’s ultimate success in life. Professionally and personally I have seen children from two-household childhoods become incredibly successful people in their personal and professional lives. The key for a two-household family is to provide children with an environment in which they can excel, even though mom and dad don’t live in the same house.
Here are a few reminders of ways separated parents can help their children thrive:
Reminder #1: Provide a Stable Home Environment.
Stability and structure are important to all children. Make sure that both you and your home are a dependable source of comfort for your children.
Reminder #2: Separation Is Never an Excuse for Bad Behavior or Poor School Performance
Life can be hard, and unfortunately, having parents who no longer live together is not the worst thing your child is going to endure. Allowing your child to use the separation as an excuse for doing poorly in school or for bad behavior sets them up for failure. Why? Because kids need to learn to meet their responsibilities regardless of their circumstances. The best gift you can give your child is to teach them to live a “No Excuses Life.” If you demand good behavior and grades even in the midst of a separation, your children will meet those expectations. They will learn that they need to work hard and do what is right, even when they are having a bad day. That is a lesson they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Reminder #3: Be Yourself, Not a “Pretend” Parent.
Your kids know what type of parent you are. You may be strict. You may be frugal. You may be a neat freak. It doesn’t reassure your kids to see you become a “Disneyland Dad” or “Toys R Us” Mom after the separation, if you were a different parent before. If you were strict, it doesn’t help your kids to suddenly take a loose approach to behavior. Kids see through that, and the message they get is this: “Everything has changed. My parents aren’t going to guide me or set boundaries for me anymore.” Your kids want you to be the same parent you always were. That gives them more security than a shopping spree at the mall.
Reminder #4: Don’t Disparage the Other Parent.
This piece of advice has been said so many times, that it borders on cliché. However, it bears repeating because every separated parent has made this mistake. It isn’t good enough to refrain from saying anything bad about the other parent in front of your children (though that certainly is the bare minimum for proper parenting, whether you are divorced or not). You need to be the other parent’s cheerleader.
Reminder #5: Explain To Your Children That You Are Separating, But Omit the Details.
Parents separating is overwhelming for children, and depending on their age, it can be very confusing. A simple, non-accusatory explanation for the separation is all that is needed. Similarly, your kids don’t want to know about your court dates, support payments, or your struggles with adjusting to life after separation. If you tell your children all the messy details, they unfortunately will carry that information with them for a long time – if not forever.
The parents decision to separate doesn’t need to be a tragedy for children. It happens, and it is sad. However, being a child of a two household family can lead to your child being a more compassionate and less judgmental person. It also can lead to your child being a more resilient person. What is important for us as parents is to do those things that prevent our children from being burdened by the situation and allow them to become the wonderful individuals they were created to be.