A lawyer’s perspective: pros and cons of exposing kids to divorce
Childhood is a time of learning, growing and gaining the skills to cope with life events. As parents, you want to shield and protect your children as long as you can, but that isn’t always possible. The best you can do is mold situations you can control and guide them through the rest. In the case of exposing kids to divorce, there is a lot that you can mold— specifically, your behavior. You’ll find that actions and words both speak loudly during a divorce in the eyes of a child.
Exposing Kids to Divorce: Good vs. Bad Parenting
As a lawyer, you see the powerful emotions people have during a divorce. Wrapped up in their feelings, parents can easily overlook the effect their words and behaviors have on the kids. Worse, parents can begin to keep score, bad mouth the co-parent and set a negative tone.
What does it mean to be a good or a bad parent when exposing kids to divorce? Let’s look at an example.
Imagine your co-parent takes the kids on vacation. Although you’d love to do the same, you pay child support and currently can’t afford to take them on a trip. You’re angry, envious and still adjusting to life with a new budget and shared custody. The next time you have the kids:
Bad parenting: You tell the kids to stop talking about the trip. You explain that it was an unnecessary expense that came from your hard-earned dollar. You say you don’t want to hear about the bad money decisions your co-parent makes and forbid them from bringing it up again. You end the conversation by saying you’ll take them on an even better vacation in the future.
Good parenting: You set aside your feelings and listen when the kids tell you about their vacation. Instead of getting jealous, you ask questions and encourage them to share their favorite parts. You even let them know how happy you are that they had a wonderful time. You tell them how nice it was that your co-parent took them somewhere special.
No one says it’s easy to rise above, or set your feelings aside, but the detrimental effect of pulling your kids into your conflict can cause lasting issues for them.
Cons of Exposing Kids to Divorce
Parents who are unable to filter their heightened emotions can escalate a stressful time. Negative behaviors during and after the divorce include:
- Sabotaging the other parent. Making choices in the best interest of your family is always the priority. An example of sabotage would be giving your co-parent the wrong date for a dance recital, so they miss the event.
- Talking badly about the other parent. No matter how much your co-parent frustrates you, your children aren’t there to listen to you vent. Chances are, they’ll figure things out on their own when the time is right.
- Scorekeeping. Being inflexible and counting every dollar, minute and how many times you’ve come through for the kids doesn’t prove that you’re a better parent. Your children will feel your love without you reminding them of everything you do for them.
Pros of Exposing Kids to Divorce
On the other hand, there are some great life lessons to be gained from a separation. Positive behavior during and after the divorce include:
- Communicating in the best interest of the children. Keeping a united front, no matter what happened between you and your co-parent, reassures your children’s sense of security and stability.
- Positive language. Even if your ex is not a nice person, pointing out or praising when they do good things will remind your children to find the good in everyone.
- Showing acceptance. Allowing your kids to love and talk about both of you and the things you do for them creates an open, loving environment.
- Flexibility. Learning how to go with the flow and adjust to a new plan is an invaluable life lesson.
You’re the Role Model
Your actions and words during and after divorce are crucial. Try to put your kids first and work together as much as you can in a positive way.
If you and your spouse are willing to work together and want to avoid a high conflict situation, a collaborative divorce may be a good option for your family. To reduce the negative effect of divorce on kids contact one of the professionals at Best Legal Choices.
Monica Donaldson Stewart is the managing attorney for the law firm of Donaldson Stewart PC, where she practices in all aspects of family law, including collaborative divorce and family law mediation.