Parenting is hard — we all know this — but when two parents decide to take an exit to Splitsville, then parenting gets exponentially harder. Who signs up to be a single parent? Not many folks, and yet here we are talking straight about the dirty truth about divorce.
One of the most awkward parts of being in the midst of divorce is figuring out how to process intense feelings while your kids are watching. As corny as it may sound, you owe it to your kids to use this experience as a lesson in dignity and self-respect. Figuring out how to keep the peace while going through divorce with children present is of the utmost importance.
When your marriage takes a nose-dive, hurtling at breakneck speed toward divorce court, and it feels like there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it, try relying on these rules of communication to help smooth at least some of the turbulence.
1. Get on the same page about the kids.
Even if your parenting styles are vastly different…heck, even if your parenting style differences are the reason you are getting divorced, it is so crucial to make a bottom line rule that you will put your kids first. That might mean only talking about the kids and leaving everything else off the table for now. Keep conversations brief and to the point. If you or your partner can’t compromise on an issue, then get a mediator to step in and help guide those conversations.
2. Use the Golden Rule.
Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, it can be truly tempting to scream at your asshole partner about what a douche they are being over the latest transgression. But you know what? Your kids can hear you, and honestly, there was a point when this person you married was your world. You loved this person enough to bring forth life together.
Dig down deep and find a kernel of that love and hold on to it with clenched teeth as you remind yourself not to name call, belittle, pick fights, drop passive-aggressive comments, or otherwise display behavior that if you saw that same in your kid you’d be mortified. This is a case when actions truly do speak louder than words, especially in front of your kids.
3. Use technology.
An ugly truth is that fights happen — probably a lot. It isn’t a totally crazy idea to make rules about arguments, like only doing it in text or email. Not only will you not be caught screaming in front of your children, but you’ll give yourself time to breathe, and with any hope, you’ll think about the words you use before you type them out. The worst-case scenario is that you have a record of what is said. The best-case scenario is that maybe you and your partner will make meaningful headway in communication by putting up a filter that requires you to slow down.
4. Get a sounding board.
Instead of sounding off on your partner, try gathering your closest friends and leaning on them to give you feedback on the kinds of things you and your partner are fighting over. Ask them to be honest but gentle with you. Pat-on-the-back comments from friends, even if well-intended, are not helpful and may do more harm than good, so choose your friends wisely. Make sure to keep your conversations with friends away from your kids. They don’t need to hear you calling your partner an asshat. Better yet, if possible, seek a trained therapist who can help guide through the murky waters of divorce.
Your kids’ world is about to be rocked by the end of your marriage, more so than yours. As tempting as it is to rage and process, it is better for you and your children to see you gathering up the strength to show integrity, decency, self-esteem, and respect.
Divorce is one of the toughest life events there is, but you can mitigate the damage and set the tone of respectfulness throughout the entire process by stepping up and taking the adage “actions speak louder than words” as literally as possible.
Besides, once the kids are in bed, you can always crack open wine and rage into the phone while you hide the laundry room. Don’t ask me how I know this.