As stated so beautifully by one of our members through her kudos to the divorced mothers of the site, navigating the divorce process with children is never easy. You're not just dealing with the emotions of you and your STBXH, you're having to juggle a whole gamut of challenges surrounding your child's emotions — and as caring Mothers (and Fathers), we can't help but worry about the effects divorce will have on our children, both short-term and long.
As any expert will tell you, preparation is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with your child through your divorce, and while there are many books you can read about the ins and outs of how best to parent through divorce, there's nothing like the pure, caring and insightful thoughts of one caring mother to another.
The following are some informative insights posted here on our private community, from one mother to another, on how best to deal with your child as you work through your divorce; including reactions to expect from your child, setting up co-parenting rules, and above all ensuring the best possible outcome for your child in the long run (in this case a younger daughter) as you work you way through divorce and beyond:
1) She is already hurt by this. What you do now can minimize that hurt or make her need therapy for the next 20 years.
2) Start telling her about the changes she can expect NOW. Ideally, she should be prepped before the actual separation. Try to help her acclimate to the new situation. She will need to hear this in little ways over and over again. Be gentle, but be clear.
3) She will assume that things will go back to normal. Be prepared for the tears and the temper tantrums. She does NOT know how to cope with this. And she won't for years to come. Right now my kiddo is learning to deal with it, but she is still very confused and hurt.
4) She may regress in things like potty training. Things she's had down for over a year. This is normal. Try to be firm but kind in enforcing rules.
5) Yes she's going through stress, but that doesn't mean the rules change. Don't let her get away with stuff because you feel sorry for what she 'must be going through'.
6) The rules are the rules. What goes for one parent may not go for the other. Get used to it. Do not make it hard for your child to be obedient at the other parent's house. She will get in trouble and not understand why what flies at one house won't fly here.
7) If the other parent has a rule you disagree with, outlaw it when she's with you. Be clear that Dad's rules are for Dad's house. Mom's rules are for Mom's house. Make sure she understands that this is just the way it is. As for you, deal with it. Getting angry at the other parent for not imposing your rules is not going to make things change. My rule to my kiddo is that if an adult that I've told her she must obey tells her to do something and: it does not hurt her, does not hurt others, does not break the law or cause her to be in danger then she MUST do what she's been told. All other rules are up to the individual parent.
8) Keep a united front as much as possible. Once she gets used to whatever arrangement of custody you agree on, she'll start playing you against each other. Be warned.
9) In regards to #8, cut the other parent slack if your child tells you a tale of woe and anger. Check with them and find out what's going on. My kiddo tried this with my partner and I; but we slowly dug for the truth and it turned out to be a case of my ex refusing to give into her childish demands.
10) Do NOT badmouth the other parent. It's one thing to have to tell her a harsh truth about the other person [like explaining that my ex had kicked us out] and quite another to try and screw up her image of him ["He's such a baby. He doesn't love you because he's not calling like he should be."] This is extremely difficult in MY situation, but in yours it should be a bit more manageable.
11) Set up rules about her things. [I.E. If it's at mom's house, it doesn't go to Dad's house. And vice versa.] my kiddo has had lots of stuff go out to my ex's house and never be sent home with her. This makes it difficult for gifts and such [I.E. "Why didn't daddy let me bring it home?]. Set this up now and AGREE on it so that your child doesn't have to deal with this.
12) If the other person somehow fails to keep an appointment to see/visit/do an activity, be willing and generous enough to reschedule it. I've found this particularly difficult, but my kiddo doesn't associate the anger at a failing of the other parent like I do. She does however feel the hurt. See it through your child's eyes and be generous.
13) Realize that the other person is a human and is not a perfect parent. Realize that you are human and not a perfect parent. PICK YOUR BATTLES. Refer to #7.
14) If the other parent gains a new significant other, reinforce #7. That new person needs all the respect and obedience you will yourself expect your child to give YOUR new significant other if and when that occurs.
15) Do not force your child to choose who she loves more. She'll choose you. And then she'll choose the other person. And she'll wind up more hurt and confused than before.
16) Do not allow yourself to dump on the other parent's new significant other in front of your child. While this is a natural feeling, it is not helpful and your child will try to comply with whatever she thinks you want to see.
17) Following #15, expect your child to go the opposite direction for the other parent. She will tell you she hates the other parent's house, but on the phone with the other parent she'll say how much she wishes she was at the other parent's house. Do not be hurt. It's natural for her to want to please you both. Be supportive of her need to support the other parent. Be prepared to periodically be the 'bad' parent in her eyes.
18) Some activities may be verboten to one parent but a moral imperative with the other [I.E. Church]. The law in most states says the custodial parent has the final word. If this is a battle for you, remember that unless you are prepared to go to court and lawyer up [and then wait months to finally have a court date], it's not something that you can force the other parent to comply with. Explain to your child why you disagree with the other parent. Be LOGICAL and reasonable. [I.E. I do not believe there is a man in the sky, so I do not go to church]. Re-enforce to her that when she is old enough, it will be her right and her decision to make a choice opposite yours or the other parent's [I.E. "Maybe you will decide there IS a man in the sky. And when you do, I'll support you in whatever you choose."]
19) Remember that in most states, your child will get a choice about whom she wants to live with at about the age of 12.
Always remember, a true compromise leaves nobody truly happy and that's a fact, but you will be able to move on, get ahead, and maybe even survive this with minimal lawyer's fees, minimal therapy, and possibly a child who feels like she can recover from the trauma that this has already caused her. With the utmost care, Allie