You’ve been together for years and now one or both of you have decided it is no longer possible to stay together, not even for the children. You are sad at the loss of the vision for the future you would have had together and may be concerned/frightened about what comes next. Had you been together without having children, you would have had the option of saying goodbye and not having to maintain a relationship with someone who you still have feelings for (positive and/or negative). But, with children, you know you have a responsibility to take care of them.
Your children, through no choice of their own, are losing the family they knew and gaining one they will need to learn to understand and adapt to….the post-divorce family. It has all the same members and may gain a few as you and the other parent create relationships with new people who become primary for you and enter your childrens’ lives.
We know from years of studies and clinical writings that the single most difficult way for children to go through divorce is for their parents to engage in conflict with each other. They can be quite resilient when they feel safe going between their parent’s households. Your children know they carry parts of both of you in them. When one or both of their parents say mean and disparaging things about each other, many children feel they are under attack themselves or can become anxious, not knowing when the conflict will emerge or if and how they could be drawn into it. They want to be able to love and have the permission to love both of their parents.
Five things to consider as co-parents:
- You and the other parent are the primary problem-solvers for your children. They rely on you to continue to usher them through their childhoods on the way to being the adults they will become.
- Work on the feelings you have to deal with as a result of your divorce with friends, family or a therapist. Don’t try to do this with the other parent.
- Think about how to best communicate with the other parent to minimize or even completely avoid conflict. This doesn’t mean say yes to everything if you don’t agree, but to have a civil conversation about the things you don’t agree on. Get help with this if/when you need it.
- Develop a way to bridge the gap of two households. One idea is to create an exchange email that is sent by the delivering parent to the other parent letting them know about the lives of the children in your care. Include what they may have done for the first time, new foods eaten, new friendships, needed discipline, accidents (i.e. scraped knees, elbows, etc.) and accomplishments.
- Be especially mindful of how you speak of the other parent with or in the presence of your children.
There are many important decisions to discuss and consider during this time of upheaval. Our neurobiology does not make it easy to be calm and considered when we are stressed about the huge changes that are happening. Many important considerations can get lost in the turmoil, even when there is little or no conflict.
One option available to you is to work with professionals who understand the difficulties you are experiencing and can help guide you through the process. They understand what needs to be discussed and that first and foremost divorce and separation are emotional decisions that have financial, legal and logistical impacts, such as how to parent your children from two households, distribute your community property and make sure all the legal aspects are taken care of.
Integrative Mediation is a model for divorcing parents to accomplish the above and more while working “integratively” with a mediator attorney, a mental health professional and a financial specialist, all with an expertise in divorce. They understand all of the pieces need to work together to create a divorce that addresses your family’s needs with care and compassion and a focus on moving on into the next phase of your lives.
For more information visit Integrative Mediation Bay Area (IMBA):