Divorce is not easy on any member of the family, but when it comes to our children, it is our responsibility as the parents to make choices that are in their best interest. While we may have needs, wants, and our own personal issues, part of being a parent is letting those take a back seat to what our children need to best adjust during this difficult time. There are several key issues that spring to mind, and they might seem obvious to some, but are happening far more often than many might think, making it obvious that they are not clear to others. The issues we are going to focus on, are issues most common to families early in the divorce and separation process. They demonstrate troublesome boundaries between parent and child, and long-term resentments in the parent-child relationships.
The first issue is that of not talking about the other parent in front of the children. This is essential. If you need to talk to your friends, your family, or anyone else about your feelings and frustrations about your ex-partner, make sure that your children are out of ear shot. This is their parent. It is your duty to protect them from what is going on between the two of, to protect the image they have of both of their parents, and to be respectful of the love and belief they have of BOTH of their parents. You would want and expect the same respect in return. This is vitally important, and your child will remember how you conducted yourself during this time as they get older.
Following this, don’t put your child in the position of being your confidant. They are your child, they are NOT your friend. You are putting them in the middle, you are asking them to choose sides, without directly doing so. You are telling them things and situations about their parent that no child should be privy to, you have crossed a line that there is no coming back from. I have worked with many children who have entered therapy dealing with issues of anxiety due to needing help to process and cope with this burden and responsibility that that been unfairly placed upon them by their parent.
Let your child be a child. Be mindful of what information you are sharing with them, and what boundaries you are setting and not crossing. Remember that once you put your child in this role, it is hard to take it back. If you need someone to confide in this badly about your current situation, stop, check yourself, and consider your options, then pick one that is not destructive to your child.
The third and final topic is that of re-entering the dating world. There are many different opinions on what is the proper amount of time that someone should be dating before they introduce them to their children, but within those theories should be some obvious absolute DON’T’S. My typical suggestions are to not introduce someone to your children for a minimum of at least 6+ months of dedicated dating, and that is only if you believe that the relationship has the potential to be long-term and to have a future. Some people would not consider it before a year. There are many more people who fall on this end of the line, and they are not the ones who we are concerned about. The ones that we are concerned about, are the ones who seem to have no issue introducing individuals to their young children on first dates, or after one date.
The age of the children does of course play a factor in time-frames, because if your children are grown and out of the house you can do whatever you like. However, if your children are young, or even of a young dating age themselves, you want to think of the example you are setting, the messages you are sending, and the difficult emotions you are forcing them to work through. They may still be processing the end of a long-term relationship with their other parent, and now they see you go through a fast succession of partners, which sends a confusing message, and hinders their ability to grieve the end of the family they had known.
Pointing out these issues is not about judgement, as they are more common than many might think. They are common enough, that they are patterns I felt it was important to write about. Patterns that are important to think about, break, and/or avoid, so that your children can adjust to the end of your relationship, and become the most well-adjusted, loved, and supported child you could hope for them to be. We all have needs, and it is natural for part of our needs to be to be heard, to get our own feelings out, and to vent our frustrations. There are proper times, places and people for that, and our children are not on that list.
Our job is to create an environment for our children where we set healthy boundaries, let them know that we respect our ex-partner, even of we are not together, and that it is one where we respect relationships, and will only bring someone around when they are ready for us to do so, and when that person is a serious and meaningful person in our life. If we keep these three significant issues in mind, we will be well on our way to way to making sure our children’s needs are met, and that we can be proud of the example we are leading.