“Divorce does not always damage children. But when children are caught in the crossfire of their parents’ hostility, it usually does. It hurts just to stand on the sidelines and watch parents trade shots. It hurts even more when parents enlist children as allies in the battle. And it hurts the most when one parent engages in a systematic campaign to turn the children against the other parent”. – Divorce Poison by Dr. Richard A. Warshak.
Divorce is literally a splitting up of the family, and most of the time, that means dealing with what is going to happen with the children during and after the divorce. In an ideal situation, the parents will work to make the divorce as easy as possible on their children, but that is the ideal and unfortunately tends to be rare. When a marriage is dissolving and emotions are high, it’s easy to let those emotions dictate how you treat each other – and if those emotions are angry and negative, it will always affect the children.
When I was going through my divorce, I received some very sage advice I have since passed along to many of my clients: Remember – your children are ½ you and ½ the other parent, so anything you do or say, for or against the other parent, you ultimately are doing or saying about your children also. To your children, awful things said about the other parent are also awful things said about them.
Just because a marriage is falling apart or has already dissolved does not mean that you will never see the other parent again. In fact, you may see the other parent several times a week depending on how active your children are in activities both in and out of school, and how involved you and the other parent are in your children’s lives. If the relationship between you and the other parent is highly volatile, it can create a very anxious situation for your children and affect their performance at their events, so keeping a lid on your issues with the other parent is the greatest gift you can give your children.
You may, and probably will see the other parent throughout the rest of your children’s (and grandchildren’s) lives. This is something most people don’t think about when getting a divorce, but should definitely be taken into account when choosing your actions and reactions.
The best thing you can do for your children when needing to attend events your ex will also be attending is to create as little stress as possible on your children. This isn’t always easy to do, but if you put your children first in these situations and stop focusing on the other parent and their drama, your children will benefit (and so will you).
If things are still in high conflict, then keep your distance from the other parent. Don’t intentionally try and start an argument – if you have to talk or find yourself in close proximity to the other parent, keep the discussions regarding your drama to yourself until a more appropriate time; and again, focus on your children and not the other party. If the other party tries to engage you and create a situation that would be uncomfortable for your children, walk away. You have permission to not engage and react. It also doesn’t hurt to have an ally, friend, or family member – someone that can help keep you focused on what you are there for – participating in your child’s life, as long as they too, know that engaging in conflict is not the goal.
You also may need to make a pact with the other parent that you attend certain events and they attend the others if you can not find a way to act civilly when the other parent is around. This isn’t ideal, but children would rather know that they aren’t going to witness drama between their parents at their event than to be anxiously waiting for the drama to begin.
Most divorces settle down after time passes and the parents learn how to co-parent – or at least set aside their drama in the best interest of their children. Do your part in creating a safe space for your children no matter where they are and ultimately your children will be better adjusted and will be the true winners in the long run.