Divorce is never easy. It takes a long time to come to terms with such a big decision and affects the lives of everyone involved. In some cases, the kids are the ones who suffer the most. But sometimes couples know the best way to keep living their best life — and keep their children in a loving environment — is to part ways.
One of the main reasons couples continue to stay together is for their kids. Their feelings, and their tender little hearts, seem to be in the forefront of couples’ minds as they navigate their way through this unknown territory. While it can often be a difficult, emotional transition at first, it doesn’t have to be chaotic for children for the rest of their lives.
I know for my ex-husband and me, we came to the decision that we were splitting up for the kids. We not only wanted to feel peaceful and happy (we knew we could no longer do it together), we also wanted them to continue to feel loved and supported and knew we could do a better job accomplishing that goal if we no longer shared the same roof.
Many questions and scenarios run through parents’ minds during divorce and separation. They are dealing with mourning, loss, and starting over, but ultimately couples want to do what is going to be best for their kids and help make the changeover to their “new normal” as smooth as possible, regardless of their ages.
According to a report in Global News, preschool-aged children of divorce adjust better and have fewer psychological symptoms when their parents have joint custody rather than the child spending all, or most, of their time with only one parent.
Research shows that when children spend about half their time with each parent, they “show less behavioral problems and have less difficulties.” This has already been studied and proven to work for school-aged children and adolescents, but child experts previously believed preschool-aged children should stay living mostly with one parent because the transition was too difficult for their age group.
But this study proves otherwise: Researchers looked at over 3,500 children in Sweden, ages 3–5. They were monitored by their teachers and parents and found “children who lived mostly or with only one parent experienced more difficulties than children of joint custody agreements or in nuclear families.”
Of course, the bigger picture is that if the adults can agree on parenting techniques through big transitions like divorce, the kids are going to feel less stress and deal with the situation in a more positive way.
Parenting expert Ann Douglas says kids “feel safe and secure when parents are sending them consistent messages, and when they can count on consistent expectations and routines.” Just like anyone else, kids need consistency, and they need to know what to expect — even if it means traveling between two homes. Because if they don’t, “they’ll invest a lot of mental energy trying to figure this out,” Douglas says. It doesn’t matter if they are 3 or 13.
Kids don’t get to choose if their parents split up. It is going to be a difficult transition for them regardless, but parents can make it easier by rising above their differences and putting their children first.
This is not easy, and sometimes it’s downright impossible.
My ex and I have struggled with this a few times over the past year as we adjust to co-parenting under different roofs, but Douglas suggests looking at the big picture and setting some long term goals: Think about how you want your kids to feel in a year and how you want them to look back on their childhood as adults. This will make it easier when you feel like you’re getting bogged down in small disagreements and it allows you to “check your behavior against the standard,” she says.
Our kids are our No. 1 priority — we all want what’s best for our children. And sometimes what is best for our children is for their parents to live apart. Sharing custody and keeping the lines of communication open, if possible, so that you can offer your kids consistency and stability during an otherwise tumultuous time is a small price to pay. It keeps them happy and helps them manage their emotions and feel secure. And it’s nice to hear they can thrive in an environment like this whether their parents are together or not. I needed that reassurance. I’m sure some of you do too.