Divorce can make parenting a difficult task, with parents finding it difficult to understand what their children really think and feel. With divorce often considered the second biggest stress in life, after death of a spouse, it can be difficult for parents to focus on parenting, especially when you’re dealing with raw and painful emotions and grieving the end of a marriage. Ongoing conflict and drawn out legal battles can make it even more difficult to focus on the needs of your children, but there are ways in which you can focus on your child’s emotional needs to minimise problems later in life.
- Keep children away from parental conflict
Especially important where divorce wasn’t an amicable choice, children should be kept away from any conflict between you and your spouse. Whilst you may be in a legal battle over the divorce, your children need to be assured that both of you love them and are there for them. It may be extremely difficult, but you still need to be able to put aside your differences, maintain contact and present a ‘united front’ for your children.
- Make sure your children know you love them
In this stressful time, many children can’t help but worry that they may have caused the divorce. This, coupled with parents being fixated on conflict and the divorce, can make your children feel unloved and in the way. Both parents will need to reassure children that it’s not their fault and that as parents, both of you are there for them.
- Encourage positive parent-child relationships
The quality of parent-child relationships following divorce is one of the biggest factors in children being able to successfully navigate a divorce. These relationships between children and the parent they don’t usually live with can easily deteriorate, so committing to regular contact with children on a one-on-one basis is imperative. Both parents should take time to reinforce positive behaviour, listen to them free from judgement and accepting children’s ambivalent feelings. This will help children and parents to understand each other and deepen their bonds.
- Create, and keep to, clear guidelines
Effective discipline and clear boundaries benefit children, by providing much needed routine and predictability to help them settle into their new lives, as well as preventing children from taking advantage of the situation to get excessive gifts from guilty parents. Children need to know that whilst all feelings are natural and ok, not all behaviours are acceptable. This stability will encourage effective communication between family members and reinforce realistic expectations everyone has of each other.