10 Things Divorced Parents Should Do To Avoid Screwing Up Their Kids

10 Things Divorced Parents Should Do To Avoid Screwing Up Their Kids

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I’m not divorced and I’m no doctor or lawyer. But I am a product of divorce and I’m damaged, alright? Divorce damaged me. It dismantled everything I knew, or thought I knew, about family and marriage and love.

And how my parents handled it – sucked even more. There ain’t enough therapy in the world for all that. (Sorry Mom and Dad, love you, mean it.)

Here’s how you can dismantle your family better:

1. Get over your tears and hurt and put on a happy face….for your kids. Break down to your family, friends and therapist PRIVATELY all day long — but don’t have those sobbing events in front of your kids. I’m not saying to fake emotional strength — crying in front of children is good because they’ll learn that they can cry too. But those really loud, snot-blasting, can’t-catch-your-breath-sobs: save it for solitude…in your soundproof coat closet.

2. Learn how to co-parent. You may hate the other person’s guts and want them dead, but both parents need to giddy-up and assume their roles as a united front. A united front with both parents giving the kids consistent messages. Truthfully, being a united front is good whether you’re married or divorced. But being a parent alliance is of utmost importance when you’re going through a divorce — because chances are, your kid’s world is crumbling right before their eyes. They need consistency. They need strong co-parents.

3. Don’t you dare talk shit about the other parent in front of your child. Children idolize their parents — they love their parents unconditionally. However, when one parent bad-mouths the other parent, it creates an even more confusing and toxic experience for the child. It’s a sick, mind-fucking thing to do. It screws up that child’s confidence — suddenly they’re questioning everything they’ve ever known and aren’t sure about a damn thing, all because mommy said daddy is a piece of shit who won’t pay child support, or won’t stop seeing his new girlfriend, or whatever. Your kids cannot process adult situations like an adult (some adults can’t process adult situations either), but do your best to bite your tongue and keep that temper in check. You may be fuming that he fucked your friend, or that she nailed the newbie at work, but keep that shit to yourself, or let it go with some cocktails WITH YOUR ADULT FRIENDS.

4. Don’t use your kids as leverage or as a threat to the other parent. That’s low down and dirty. That’s putting them in the middle of a very volatile situation. You and your ex made the mess — so don’t use your kids like pawns in some game. Use an expensive leather couch, diamond earrings, a house in the Caribbean, a toaster, but kids are OFF LIMITS.

5. Get a custody agreement (a detailed one) in place as fast as possible. Don’t let ambiguity be your guide. Get every single detail — pick-ups, drop-offs, school vacations, whatever — hashed out immediately. No grey areas; everyone knows and understands the plan = less confusion and instability for kids.

6. Attend family gatherings. That’s right — this is back to the ol’ united front business. There are going to be graduations, recitals, soccer games, birthdays etc. that outside family members and both parents will want to attend. Do not disengage. Instead, show your kid that you’re a mature human being. You can all be together, if everyone acts gracefully and tactfully.

7. Talk to your child about the divorce. But put the details on their level and choose your words wisely (maybe you oughta practice in front of the mirror a few times?). If not, therapy. I despise therapy as an adult — but I’ve heard it helps millions of people. I was forced to go to therapy when my parents divorced, which was nice, because it felt like a safe place to vent. So, get your kids talking to someone, anyone.

8. Don’t discourage your child from talking about the other parent (in negative or positive ways). Just let them talk. Gawd forbid you hear your ex’s name leave the lips of your child’s mouth. It’s OK killa.

9. Make sure family members and friends outside of the immediate sphere know the deal. Everyone who will be interacting with your child needs to be briefed on the situation — and given pointers on do’s and don’ts with your child. Family members will be no doubt talking about you and the divorce anyways (because people are gossiping assholes), but they all need to hear it from the horse’s mouth, including any and all visitation arrangements.

10. Eventually move on. Sooner than later. Don’t let the hurt consume your years. It does more damage to yourself and to your kids. Do you want your son or daughter to see you as this miserable, damaged angry man or woman? By all means, grieve a bit, get mad, but then get back to being the best person and parent you can be — without emotional baggage. And if that means you need to go see a shrinky-dink, then do it.

Divorce could happen to anyone. And it usually destroys everyone involved. At least temporarily. It can feel like a death. But it’s not. I hear divorce survival rates are really high.

Related post: How Splitting Up Made Us Better Parents