Divorces are emotional for everyone involved, and they are by no means simple. Although both parties may begin the process with good intentions, it’s possible that your relationship with your kids may suffer collateral damage.
How will you know if your children are negatively affected? Well, take a look at whether they are relating to you differently than before. During, and even well after a divorce, it’s not unusual for a child to blame one of the parents for the significant change in their world.
Chances are that your decision to divorce was a last resort or even a necessary evil. Especially if there was a lot of fighting before the final decision was made, it’s not out of the question that your children may have gathered their own ideas about who’s more responsible for the change in the family dynamic.
However, you should know that children also tend to target the parent they feel safer with, whether or not that parent actually initiated the divorce. So, what happens when the kids blame you, the dad? Here are some suggestions for things that you can do—a map of sorts—to rebuild that damaged or broken relationship.
1) Be Curious About Your Kids
It’s easy to ask standard questions that you’re used to asking: “How was their <insert sports/extracurricular activity here> practice?”; “How is school?”; and so forth. You can create deeper interactions and strengthen your bond with your children by branching out the types of questions that you ask, though. The idea is to try to get them to open up about any fears they may have, or challenges or aspirations they are thinking about.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to find an activity that you can do side by side. Having a task to complete like painting a wall, fixing a door, or even engaging in some girly-girl activities (assuming your child is into that stuff), makes things less awkward and can help you both to be a bit less self-conscious with this new(er) territory.
If power tools or Cinderella-type activities are not your thing, and you can’t even fake it for a little bit, then try something simpler: driving. Talking while you’re driving somewhere can make it easier for both of you to have some of these conversations. You (and they) can avoid eye contact, making it less intense. On top of that, you have a captive audience at that point (just take away the electronics)!
2) Acknowledge Their Feelings
When you’re listening to your kids express their feelings, make sure to remember that this conversation is not about you. Although you might want to jump to your own defense or give them every explanation in the book as to why the situation is what it is, if your children are expressing their anger or displeasure, just let them do it with free reign.
More times than not, they’ll feel a little better just by sharing how they are feeling. Acknowledge that you see and understand the impact of the divorce on their schedule and circumstances. Don’t downplay the change or try to make it better at the moment. Let them be upset, within reason.
If there was a reason that the marriage ended primarily because of your own actions—like an affair or an addiction—take accountability. Your kids will come to respect you for it, and it will help rebuild trust eventually. Be patient.
3) Listen with Wide Open Ears
Ensure that your kids know that you’re listening and concerned about all of the different parts of their lives. If they’re talking, give them all your attention. Put down the phone, close your email program, and even shut the Sunday day football game off if you have to. Just listen! Your undivided attention will let them know, and most importantly, feel, how much they matter to you.
4) Don’t Speak Badly About Your Ex in Front of The Kids
Save that for private time with your friends or close family. You should, however, remind whoever you are venting to that they are not to repeat your grievances. You don’t want any of it to inadvertently get back to your children.
When kids hear their parents arguing, whether during the divorce litigation or even after the divorce, it upsets them and adds unnecessary stress and worry to their lives. Definitely avoid fighting for any reason in front of your kids. It is a definite “no-no” to badmouth your ex to them for any reason.
As tempting as it might be to bond with your children over shared frustration, it doesn’t help build trust in their relationship with you. If your son or daughter comes to you to complain about a parent, you can listen, but don’t jump in and commiserate. Hold your tongue!
Speak well about your ex to your kids, or at least speak neutrally about your ex. Yes, this rule of thumb holds even if your ex is badmouthing you to them. Another rule of thumb is never to share the details about the divorce with your children. Let your kids stay kids for as long as they can. There will be plenty of time when they are adults for you to set the record straight if you still feel the need.
5) Keep Reaching Out to Your Kids, Even If They Don’t Respond
If your kids are really upset at you, your job is to keep showing up for them regardless—even if you have tried every other way to turn your relationship around. You should make a pact with yourself to always send cards to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.
Text, call, Facetime, and leave voicemails, even if they don’t reply. Try sending something funny (like a comic Snapchat filter, meme, or GIF) to get them to laugh, even if it is at you and not with you. After all, if you can ease the tension for them for one minute, that is progress!
6) Be Consistent
With so much change occurring in their world, consistency will be a huge part of helping you maintain your relationship with your kids. If you’re supposed to pick up your kids or take them somewhere, be on time. The children’s lives are stressful enough between school, friends, activities, and divorce issues. They don’t need the added worries of waiting or being uncertain about whether you will show up.
If you say you’re going to do something, follow through. Over time, the repetition of showing up and following through will override (or at least lessen) their stress levels and anxiety.
7) Share Your Feelings with Your Kids
Of course, we don’t mean you should tell your kids how’re you feeling about adult things like bills, relationships, or your life problems. Talking about your own emotions, however, will reinforce the idea that it’s okay for them to feel things. It will also strengthen your relationship. That sort of open communication from you encourages your children to turn around and share as well.
Even though it might seem like things will never get better with your children, with time and proper attention to your relationship, they should improve dramatically.
If you’re considering a divorce, our team at MR., Men’s Rights Divorce & Family Law of New Jersey, is here to support you with candor, transparency, communication, and quality. We’ll fight for what’s in your and your children’s best interest, with the highest professionalism and ethics, along with some levity—because we know that this is a lot for you to bear and you may need some relief from the tension too. Call us today at 201.552.3394 or contact us online.