When a couple chooses to divorce, there are many factors to consider: Who gets the house? How will we divide our assets? How will this change our social lives?
When you are a parent who chooses to divorce, the factors become more complicated: Will I have primary custody or joint custody? What will the schedule look like? Who gets which holidays?
And then there’s breaking the news to your child. Divorce will bring symptoms of grief such as sadness, fear and anger. After all, it is a significant loss for everyone involved. Normalizing your emotional reaction will help your child feel free to express his own.
“We told our son together,” said Katie Tagye, mom of one. “It was hard to talk to him about it because we were both emotional. However, it was important to me not to hide my sadness about the divorce. I didn’t want to be inappropriate, but I also didn’t want to mask my emotions.”
Coping with your grief and helping your child adjust is a balancing act. Children process grief slower than adults, so your child may ask the same questions several times or may exhibit unfamiliar behaviors several months down the road.
Tagye’s son was 5 years old when they told him about the divorce, and it took some time for him to understand.
“We told him we were going to live in different houses and that we wouldn’t be married anymore,” she said. “For a couple of months he would ask questions like why we didn’t live in the same house, why we weren’t married, why my last name was different, things like that. I would say that mommy and daddy both loved him but that we couldn’t be married anymore.”
Keeping your explanations simple, especially with younger children, will help them cope with any changes and will benefit your relationship. Avoid blaming the other parent or giving details about the divorce.
Amy Lawson is a mom of two and considers herself and her ex-husband friends and teammates in co-parenting. She advised parents going through this experience to work together.
“Never treat your children like your pals and share details about why things didn’t work out between the two of you,” she said. “Try very hard not to say anything remotely negative about the other parent either in front of or to the kids.”
Developing a parenting plan can assist a divorcing couple with communication, schedules, health care, child care and other mutually agreed guidelines. This plan is either agreed to by the couple and then ratified by the court, or it is court-ordered in contested situations.
“It is essentially the ‘rules’ of the parenting relationship after the marriage is dissolved,” said Alison Walker, an attorney who specializes in family law. “A timesharing plan is the actual schedule of which parent is responsible for the children and has the right to spend time with them at certain times. There is usually a ‘regular’ schedule and then there is also a ‘holiday’ schedule.” Walker points out that every family situation is unique and highly recommends seeking competent legal representation.
Both Tagye and Lawson work with their ex-spouses to provide a fair schedule for themselves and their children. While following a parenting plan is helpful, they both stress the importance of flexibility.
“Remember, the kids just want everybody to get along and to see both parents,” said Lawson. “My ex and I share a Gmail calendar where we put the kids’ activities. If there’s a special event he wants to share with the boys, and it’s technically ‘my weekend,’ we work it out rather than rigidly saying no because it’s not his time.”
“Remember, the kids just want everybody to get along and to see both parents,” said Lawson.
Tagye agreed and said that she and her exhusband have adjusted their schedule several times to figure out what works best for the whole family. She also helps her son understand the schedule by giving him a brief rundown of where he will be and when he will switch again.
“My ex and I have gotten into a good groove,” she said. “We talk about parenthood, and when our son has had some rough spots, we’ve talked about it all together. We still consider ourselves his family and plan to continue that way.”