Divorce Do’s & Don’ts

  • Do continually remind your children they are not to blame. Many children have illogical fears that they caused the divorce.
  • Do tell your children, again and again, that you and the other parent love them.
  • Do watch for your children’s behavior. Your children may not have the ability to name what they are feeling and why. However, if your children’s behavior is different, it is very likely that the behavior is a manifestation of the divorce. Seek professional counseling for your children should they exhibit either withdrawn or aggressive behavior toward themselves or others.
  • Do keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your children. It may take months for your children to ask questions. Your job is to make sure your children know you are open to answering any questions.
  • Do tell your children’s teachers and extracurricular leaders. These adults need to know about the divorce in order to best support your children, your children’s emotional state, and your children’s potential behaviors.
  • Do listen to your children’s emotional concerns without problem-solving for them. Listen without judgment. Take their feelings into consideration when making decisions that affect their lives, but do not allow them to make the decisions.
  • Do provide consistent parenting – each and every day.
  • Do plan for time each day away from the children to have a mini melt-down. By planning into your day, you will have it when you need it and you will avoid having it if front of your children.
  • Do arrange frequent and consistent contact for your children with both parents.
  • Do realize that your children may feel shameful regarding the divorce.
  • Do understand that even children who feel relief from the divorce may have many conflicting emotions (i.e. relief, blaming themselves for the divorce, and wanting their parents back together).
  • Do expect your children to play one parent against the other.
  • Do be flexible with the application of your temporary and permanent parenting plan. You cannot plan life. Life happens between plans.
  • Do tell your children you love them. . . often.
  • Don’t introduce a romantic partner to your children for a minimum of one year. Period. I am not advising you not to date; you can date without introducing a romantic partner to your children for the first year. Your period of renewed freedom is their period of chaos. Give your children one year to acclimate to the new relationships with each parent, the new living arrangements, and the new time spent with each parent.
  • Don’t tell your children you do not want to hear about or talk about the other parent or the other parent’s new partner. You want your children to feel they can share their full and complete lives with you without censoring it for your feelings. Who should censor feelings, a child or an adult? Parents who ask their children to censor their lives to spare the parent’s feelings is placing their own needs above the needs of the children. Additionally, you want to keep any line of communication open between yourself and your children so you know all the information possible to best parent your child. Children will sacrifice themselves and their emotional state to help you with your struggles.
  • Don’t talk badly about the other parent or blame the other parent for the divorce. Your children need to make their own decisions about each parent. Also, in a divorce or post-divorce situation, children naturally protect, defend, and thus align themselves with the parent the children perceive as weaker or in more need of protection. Criticizing that parent further enhances the alignment. Even if the other parent is wrong, do not criticize. It will backfire on you eventually.
  • Don’t tell your child to keep secrets from the other parent (i.e. do not tell your mother about my new car, don’t tell your father that Joe spends the night.)
  • Don’t tell a child that they are now the “man of the house” or the new “mommy of the house.” These statements, even if only said once, can have long-lasting, unintended negative consequences for the child.
  • Don’t call yourself a single-parent in front of your children. Unless the other parent is truly one-hundred percent out of the picture, your children have two parents. Your words matter.
  • Don’t call your former spouse your “ex” in front of your children. Call your former spouse either your father or your mother, without tone. Your words matter.
  • Don’t argue in front of the children. If you have an argument with the other parent, do not talk to your children about the argument.
  • Don’t use the children as a messenger or a spy.
  • Don’t be early, late, or fail to engage in parenting time.
  • Don’t make promises to your children you may not keep.
  • Do not make your children your counselor and confide to them your emotions, fears, concerns, wishes and hopes for the divorce.