To be completely blunt, divorce sucks. And when kids are involved it sucks even more. But it is possible to help your child cope with this separation easier. Don’t take it from me though. Here are 10 tips from 10 moms who have experienced divorce in their own lives.
My son was one year old when I got divorced. It seems like a lifetime ago, but the impacts of divorce can last a lifetime, especially for the children involved. That’s why I asked 10 moms who have been divorced (or directly affected by a divorce) for tips to help kids cope with divorce. Take a look!
Important note: In order to encourage uninhibited comments and to respect the privacy of these moms, the names have been changed. Their experiences, however, are real.
Kelly: Mom and Dad love you
Kelly–who got divorced when her daughter was very young–tried to help her daughter understand that both parents still love her very much. She explained to her daughter that people make their own choices and they don’t always align with your own and that takes them away from us. But they still love you.
Kelly also relied on the help and support that she received from her family. The men in her family would step in as “dad” when she needed it, so her daughter would never feel without. “Being raised by a village helped her grow to the best kid she is today,” Kelly said.
Jenny: I will never give up on you
Reflecting on her divorce, Jenny emphasized the importance of letting her three children (ages 12 down to 4 at the time) know that she would never leave or give up on them. “I messed up a lot and there was plenty of crazy going on but I never gave up. … It’s been 30 years and everything turned out fine,” Jenny said.
She learned how to listen to her children and really hear what they were saying. All three of them are now independent, happy adults with beautiful families of their own.
Jessica: I will never talk bad about your dad
Jessica received some great parenting advice from a friend when she was getting divorced.
- Never talk bad about the other parent in front of the children. If you need to vent, go to your car and call someone else. Children are allowed to love BOTH parents no matter what has happened. They are 50% of each parent. Bad-mouthing each other makes kids confused about who they really are since they are literally made up of both.
- Keep it civil. Your child should be able to have events in their lives with BOTH of their parents attending.
- Be honest with children at an age-appropriate level. Kids aren’t stupid. They can figure things out quite well. But they need unemotional truth even it if difficult to hear.
Lucy: You don’t ever have to pick sides
This amazing mother had five children with her ex-husband before they got divorced. She said the thing that has been the hardest for her kids is when one parent doesn’t respect the other parent. “Kids shouldn’t have to feel bad to love their parent. They shouldn’t have to feel that they have to pick sides. When I was a child, it was hard for me to watch my parents hate each other and use me as a toy for them to fight over,” Lucy said.
Lucy believes that a lot of problems would be solved by putting aside your feelings and respecting each other, parenting together and just being kind! “It doesn’t help anyone to be hating each other,” she said.
Aubrey: You can talk to a counselor
Expressing your feelings to a neutral professional third party can be very healing. This is true for not only the child but for the parent as well. Aubrey learned this first-hand when her daughter was struggling. Aside from sending her daughter to counseling on a regular basis, she has been in a lot of counseling for herself. It has helped both of them a lot.
Janice: I will be a good example to you
As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Don’t do or say anything that you wouldn’t want your ex-spouse to do or say about you. Janice understood this early on with her four children after her divorce. No matter how much she disliked her ex-spouse and his actions, she refused to stoop to his level. With time, your children will see the difference. Don’t talk bad about your ex. Do not put him/her down or name call in front of your kids. Don’t vent to your kids about your ex.
Carrie: I will give you your space
Carrie didn’t totally trust her ex-spouse at first when her oldest child went to visit his dad. However, she knew that calling and texting her son while he was gone wouldn’t help matters much. It would just make her ex upset and her son confused. “Do not grill your kids every time they get home from their mom or dad’s house. And, do not text and call your child(ren) while they are gone. Let them enjoy their time with your ex,” Carrie said.
Lisa: I will focus on me so I can focus on you
You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. This rang true for my friend Lisa who has six children, three of which were from her first marriage. When she got divorced, she worked very hard to provide a very stable and consistent home life for her children. In order to do that, however, she made it a priority to find time for herself. “Try and take care of yourself because if you’re not a whole, complete person, you’re not going to have that to offer to your children during the really hard moments,” Lisa said.
Teresa: You don’t have to be the mediator
My friend Teresa, who is a divorced mother of three, said that her adult children were worried that they would have to be a mediator at all of their family functions when mom and dad were both there. She made it a point to let her kids see that she and her ex husband could be in the same room together without arguing. That provided a lot of comfort to her kids.
Heather: Your step-parents can help too
Heather has the unique perspective of a step mom. When she got married, she welcomed her stepson into her home as if he was one of her own. She had to figure out what was comfortable for both of them.
Here’s how Heather helped her stepson adjust to a new stepmom:
- Do not force your step child to call you mom or dad. Let them call you by your name until they decide they want to call you mom or dad which may be never.
- Don’t impose yourself on them. Let them come to you whether its for a hug or to talk.
- Treat all children in the home the same. Hold the same boundaries and expectations for your step-child as your own children.
- Do not say negative things about the child’s parents. If they come to you about their parent, try to just listen and empathize about what they are feeling.
- Try to take some 1-1 time with them. Ask them about their friends, school, interests, dislikes, etc. Go on a hike or get groceries together. Little mini social trips build trust and connection.
- Don’t take anything personally. Be open to the fluctuations of the relationship. You are the adult and it is your job to keep the environment calm.
- Make him feel special. One thing my step-son really appreciated was when he saw I had a picture of him up on the wall in my office.
Mandy: Perspective from an adult whose parents divorced
Mandy was in college when her parents divorce. Even though she wasn’t living at home at the time, it was devastating. Looking back however, she realized that she learned some valuable lessons along the way:
- There is joy in seeing my parents happy
- The best gift my parents gave me was the freedom to create my own relationship with each of them.
- My parents allowed time to be the healer for our family.
“For me, it wasn’t realistic to fix the repercussions of the divorce with a bandaid and then act like everything was fine. We all had difficult feelings and emotions to work through on our own,” Mandy said.
- My parents put on a brave face out of respect for their shared family.
- Blended families can be great! It took sometime to get used to the new vision of our family. But over time my heart opened to loving my step parents and their families. I love what my family has become and how much my kids adore their grandparents and step-grandparents.
Thank you to all the the great moms who contributed to this blog post. Hopefully these tips were helpful. If anything, I hope this post helps you realize that you are not alone. Just keep trying and don’t give up.
Here’s a list of additional resources to help you child cope with divorce:
- Living with mom and living with dad (a children’s book about divorce)
- The list of things that will not change (a children’s book about divorce)
- Talking to children about divorce (a parent’s guide)
Related link: 50+ simple ways to co-parent and still get along