Separation and divorce is an adjustment for everybody and no matter how perfectly things go, or what you do to shelter your kids, this will be rough for them; they will need time and support to work though the change and get used to their new routine and life. It would be nice if the adjustment went in a straight line, just getting better and better, but that’s not actually what happens. Studies have shown that kids (and adults) are worse off emotionally one year after separation than one month after separation.
To make matters worse, once the fighting is over, the trauma doesn’t necessarily go away. Studies have shown that witnessing hostility between parents can lead to aggressive behavior in children for several years following divorce. Anxious, depressed, and withdrawn behavior sometimes doesn’t appear until a year after the kids are exposed to the fighting. When the conflict is happening, the kids are in protective-mode and it’s not until later that they let their guard down and start to show all the emotions they have bottled up. That’s why it is so critical to limit conflict with your co-parent because it has a profound impact on the health and well-being of your favorite little humans.
Following are a few ways to help you keep your perspective about short-term and long-term goals with your kids so that you can avoid conflict and fights with your Ex.
1) Recognize what you can control and accept what you can’t .
It is VERY difficult to switch from a household where you knew what was happening with your children at all times and had a say over all of it, to a situation where blocks of time go by where you have no input. There is going to be a lot you can’t control but it doesn’t mean you have lost your role of being a parent and influencer of your kids. By having a substantive role in your child’s life, you will always have an impact on their values, personality, and behaviors. No matter what happens when they are away, you will always be able to parent them through leading by example, teaching, guiding and being someone they respect and come to for advice. You will have more impact on them through this than anything you could accomplish through a fight with your Ex.
While it is ideal for both parents to be on the same page about appropriate behaviors and discipline, if that doesn’t come without a high amount of conflict then it is out of your control. You will be able to find other ways to parent. If your Ex allows unlimited screen time and you disagree, then show your kids the value of being outside, having a hobby, eating dinner where everyone visits and doesn’t look at their phone. If one parent can afford nicer vacations than the other, then be happy that your children have exposure to a wide variety of activities and views of the world. A trip to a nice hotel isn’t necessarily better than camping next to a lake – they’re just different. Have faith in yourself; have faith in your kids; you don’t have to micromanage your children’s lives to impart your values and have them turn out to be incredible human beings. Making yourself available to them when you are with them (and not distracted by conflict with your Ex) will have a lasting impact.
2) Don’t get bogged down in the everyday, look at this from a full life view.
You might not be there for a few milestone events but you will be there for others. While you might not be present when your child loses a first tooth, you will be there for their first home run, first performance, first driving lesson, etc. There’s no guarantee that even if things had stayed the same you would have been there for for every milestone. You could have been out of town, at work, your child may have been at a friend’s house – life is chaotic and you never know when things are going to happen to kids! And what happens in your child’s life between ages 3 and 12 is not the end. If you build a good relationship with your kids you will have a closeness that leads to a lifetime of them confiding in you, looking to you for advice and guidance, and sharing their life with you.
Then you’ll be able to experience first jobs, first loves, first heartbreak, first grandchildren, first everythings for a long time! Being flexible, being upbeat and being positive will make your kids want to be around you all the more. The grief of not having as much time as you want with your children is substantial and real but don’t let the grief get in the way of the time you do have and the bond you are sharing. Childhood is a relatively short time, but you are in this for the long-haul and as long as you are helping your kids become happy, well-adjusted, productive humans things are going to turn out great!
3) Lower your expectations for your Ex – they are not meant to be ideals.
Expectations are not ideals. Ideals are how you believe things should be. Rational expectations reflect the way you, others in your life, and the world around you actually are. It’s very possible your Ex is not a perfect parent: kids don’t really care. Kids do much better if they believe both parents love them and want to be involved in their lives. Some things that your Ex does differently may seem substandard but is that according to your ideals or reasonable expectations?
Do the kids have more freedom than you think is appropriate? It is a reasonable expectation that the kids are supervised enough that they are safe; it’s an ideal to think they need parental interaction or supervision more than what’s necessary for their age. Do you think your toddler needs to be in bed by 7:30? It’s a reasonable expectation that your baby be fed, bathed, and put to bed; it’s an ideal to think they need to be in bed no later than 7:30pm. Of course things might not be what you want them to be but trying to stay objective and recognizing what is an expectation and what is an ideal will help you reduce conflict.
Divorce teaches a lot of life lessons. If you can grow into the person you want to be, than divorce can be a key step in bringing you to the life you were meant to live. Hopefully that is a life of love and happiness with healthy and well-adjusted children. None of that will happen if you have a lot of conflict. Just make sure whatever you are fighting about is worth more than the cost of the fight itself. There’s no reason to fight about putting the baby to bed late when fighting about it causes your baby way more stress and suffering than being slightly off her routine. Of course your main focus is always your child, fights happen because we want the best for our children, just don’t let your good intentions justify immediate harm.