Does Divorce Spell The End Of A Happy Childhood?
Although divorce may mean the family will not be the same, it doesn’t have to mean the end of a happy childhood for your kids. Divorce is stressful for everyone involved, and it doesn’t matter if your children are toddlers or are old enough to fully grasp the implications of what’s happening. Kids notice when their parents don’t get along anymore.
If you’re separated, divorcing or already a divorced parent, take comfort knowing divorce doesn’t mean your children can’t have a happy childhood. In fact, studies have shown that the constant stress and fighting from a bad marriage can do more damage to children and their future relationships than a divorce in which parents proactively create a sense of normalcy and happiness for their children. This may seem like a tall order, but there is much to consider when it comes to your children and dealing with divorce.
First, always consider how every choice affects your children. It’s easy for parents to get so wrapped up in the heavy financial and emotional pain of divorce that they forget to consider how their children are affected. This is especially true when custody disputes arise. Children often get treated like property to be battled over instead of human beings who hear and see everything going on around them.
It is true that divorce can make it difficult to think clearly. For instance, you might not be ready to negotiate visitation schedules with the other parent, especially in the beginning before the courts are involved; however, remember kids are the ones that lose out when divorcing parents bicker over every detail of their care.
Secondly, even though you may have legitimate reasons to criticize your ex, doing so in front of your kids is always detrimental. Remember, this person may be your ex, but it’s still your child’s parent. It’s important for kids to feel safe and be close to both parents if possible. Badmouthing the other parent can be very damaging to kids, especially if it continues and happens often. It creates stress and anxiety and can easily make children, especially older ones, feel as if they are stuck in the middle. The same is true for undermining the other parent. It might make you feel better for a brief time, but it isn’t worth the damage. If you need to vent, vent to an adult friend or family member.
In addition, don’t force your child or children into acting as a go-between. You may not want to speak to the other parent about money or scheduling or visitation arrangements. You might not even be on speaking terms with your ex at all, but don’t use your kids to relay those messages back and forth. Kids are astute when it comes to reading their parents’ emotions. They pick up on stress and tone and internalize it. If you absolutely can’t talk things out with your ex, find a third-party adult who doesn’t mind acting as a go-between for a while.
Be sure to talk openly about what is happening. Young children won’t comprehend the complexities of marriage and divorce. You won’t need to tell even your teenage kids every detail of how and why you’re divorcing, but don’t shy away from talking about it. Kids need to know what’s going on. If you don’t tell them, they might imagine the worst. Children with divorcing parents often feel they are in some way to blame. Talk about what’s going on enough to reassure them that it isn’t their fault.
Younger children often have difficulty comprehending why mom and dad aren’t living together anymore. Keep explanations simple. Explain that although you aren’t together anymore, you both love them and always will. Older children also need reassurance, but they may have more complex questions. Be ready to talk about it and address their concerns about the future.
Keep in mind that divorce often means children will have to adapt rapidly to changes at home. They may spend equal time living in each parent’s home or they may only see one parent every other weekend. Try to help them adapt to this change as smoothly as possible. Sometimes it’s helpful for children to be able to talk to a counselor to deal with the stress of changes in living arrangements and life changes made due to divorce.
Further, divorce is inherently disruptive to home life; however, your kids will adjust better if you continue to nurture relationships with your extended families. This means your ex-in-laws as well. Maybe you had a great relationship with your ex-spouse’s parents or siblings, maybe you didn’t. Even if you weren’t as close as you could have been, it’s important for your kids to maintain the relationships they have with both sets of grandparents and with uncles, aunts, and cousins on both sides. Ex-in laws and members of your own extended family are part of the family unit. Strong family connections are vital to a healthy and happy childhood, so nurture as many of the relationships for your child as are possible.
Try to also get along with your ex-spouse. Separation and divorce rank high on the list of life’s most stressful events. The break-down of a marriage rarely happens without a good amount of anger and resentment on both sides. As a parent, it’s critical to try to get along with your ex at least for the sake of your children (except in situations such as abuse). Don’t pick fights over non-related issues when you have to make parenting decisions together.
Lastly, accept the reality that your ex-spouse is going to eventually begin dating again as will you. This may mean your children will have a stepparent someday. Be adaptable and open-minded to change. Your child will be looking for your actions for guidance. If your children see you are okay with the changes a divorce has brought, it will be much easier for them to handle them too.
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