3 Well-Intended "No-No's" for Divorcing Parents

By Sandi Sherr

This article is an excerpt from Preparing for Divorce, a free monthly support call, sponsored by Main Line Family Law Center, in partnership with Divorce Essentials.


3 Well-Intended "No-No's" for Divorcing Parents

Many parents realize that constant fighting in front of children or bad mouthing the other parent can be emotionally damaging to a child.Divorced Parent Plan Examples
But you might be surprised to learn that common notions about divorce--thought to to help your child cope-- may end up having the opposite effect.
Consider these as examples when working on your parenting plan or parenting agreement.  

Divorcing Parent No-No #1 

“It is better for our kids if we stay together than if we got divorced.”

One option is for parents to just stay put, at least“until the kids get older.”  Going through a separation or divorce, they fear, will be too traumatic for their child to handle.  It's true that, no matter their ages, children will be sad and anxious about losing what has always been.  Like all of us, they fear the unknown.  However, given the right support, children are innately adaptable and resilient.  Your staying together in an emotionally strained or hostile environment is likely more detrimental to children's wellbeing than living in separate and peaceful households.
Even if you and your spouse think you are fighting behind closed doors, "walls have ears" and children pick up your  hostility and anger; often even blaming themselves for your marital problems.  Your good intentions boomerang.  Children thrive in homes with contented parents who can offer the best of themselves, even if it means parenting apart. 

Truth be told, kids are selfish (in a good way). 

It's a survival mechanism.

When their needs are consistently met, they bounce back.

Divorcing Parent No-No #2 

“Even if we get divorced, we can still be together with  the kids on holidays.”

Some parents approach divorce while trying to save family traditions like sharing major holidays.  Why not? It seems like a great way show your children that you are still a "family".

Well, you are still a family, but the truth is, the family structure has changed.  Dad and Mom are living separate adult lives; they are not getting back together.  Too much togetherness can be confusing:  children may wonder what it means.  (If you're so happy now, why can't it always be this way?)  By keeping celebrations separate, children more quickly acclimate to the new reality of two separate, loving homes.  

Help your children look ahead; start new holiday traditions.  (AND DO share child-centered events.  BE THERE for those extra-curricular activities to support your child.  Even birthdays, if it works for you.  When it's all about the child, the message is clear.) 

Tell your child, "Mom and Dad are both good people. We just aren't good together anymore."  

Divorcing Parent No-No #3

“I often ask my kids to tell me what is going on over there (at Mom's or Dad's place).”

Concerned parents want to know that their children are are safe and happy in another's care. But asking too many details could put your child in the awkward position of serving as your"messenger" or "spy."

Also, keep in mind that your child's version of events could be quite different from what actually happened.  So, be interested and ask general questions about your children's time away from you. Use neutral language that doesn't suggest you are fishing for information or making negative judgments about the other parent.  Read between the lines; if your overall impression is that your child comes home healthy and happy, that's really all you need to know.  If you have questions or cause for concern, contact the other parent. 

Talk directly to your former spouse.   

Successful parents communicate with each other over time about their children's welfare.

Are you preparing for divorce? Register for our next free support call.



About the Author

Sandi Sherr

Picture of Sandi Sherr Sandi Sherr, M.Ed, is a parenting mediator for Main Line Family Law Center. For over 25 years, Sandi has been dedicated to building strong, healthy families - no matter their design. For more information or advice on creating a healthy parenting plan, contact Sandi at ssherr@mlfamilylawcenter.com.

Topics: Mindful Divorcing Parent