I’ve seen countless families transition through divorce.
I’ve seen families handle their divorce well and I’ve seen families cycle downward into crisis. Some parents are so hurt and wounded that it is all they could do to make it through their divorce. Because of their pain, their focus shifts inwards and away from their children who were previously the center of their universe. It is over these parents and their children that I lose sleep at night.
Some parents, though, are able to push beyond their own pain. Despite their divorce (or perhaps because of their divorce?), they forge a new life for themselves and they create a new and better relationship with their children. How is that even possible?
It’s possible because of the purposeful choices these parents made to put their children first.
I’ve witnessed terrible husbands become stand-up fathers because, frankly, they had to. It’s easy to work until midnight or play golf on the weekend when you know your wife is taking care of the children.
Similarly, I’ve watched frazzled, overcommitted wives become focused and lively mothers because, frankly, the unexpected (and often unwanted) time away from the children that comes when children spend weeknights and weekends with their dad, allowed them to take care of their work, their errands, their health and their spirit.
After years of observing the behavior of divorcing parents, here is my best advice for putting your children:
- Be on time for your periods of possession. Your children are watching out the window and waiting for your car to pull up. Don’t disappoint them.
- Since your children do not get to see you every day, they miss you and they want to spend time with you. Don’t be distracted by other people, or by your phone, or by your computer. Give your full attention to your children. They deserve it and so do you.
- Take your children to their events when they are in your possession. Children know their team is counting on them to show up. Children want to celebrate their friend’s birthday at the party they were invited to. Spending time with you should not mean they can’t attend the piano performance they’ve been practicing for.
- Don’t talk to your children about what is going on in your divorce lawsuit, or what you or their other parent are fighting about. Your children love you both so much. It hurts them to see you fighting over them and they do not want to be in the middle.
- Even if it is true, do not tell your child that the other parent isn’t paying child support. Don’t make them worry about things they can’t control (like keeping a roof over their head). Don’t make them feel like their only value is as a paycheck or that they are a burden on you.
- Don’t make your children lug their belongings between two households. It’s embarrassing to bring a suitcase to school so they can spend time with their mom or dad. Have plenty of clothes and uniforms and extracurricular gear for them at your place. It doesn’t have to be new – we all know it will get ruined and stained in less than 10 minutes anyway!
- Don’t make your children worry about making sure you get “your” things back. Even if you purchased it, the shirts, the socks, the shoes, the soccer cleats and the clarinet that keeps going back and forth belongs to your kid, not to you or the other parent.
Remember, your children didn’t ask for their parents to divorce or for the two of you to fight over custody. They love you AND they love their other parent. You must fiercely protect their right to continue to love you and their other parent equally and fully. Doing so will provide a tremendous benefit to them as they make their own journey to their new normal.