10 helpful tips for divorcing parents
Lu, one of our Associate Psychosexual and Relationship Therapists, is a divorced parent with two kids under ten. In this blog, she takes off her professional hat to share her very personal top tips for divorcing parents to help you navigating the devastating reality of ending your marriage.
I’m not sharing lessons I’ve learnt from the hundreds of hours I’ve spent in professional training, studying and clinical practice. I’m sharing my wisdom from the frontline. The blood, sweat and tears that have afforded me the position of being an ‘expert by experience’.
My story began four years ago when my children were two and five.
I’ve made and continue to make mistakes, but I hope that my insight will help you navigate your challenges with the greatest chance of success.
- Goodbye is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bye’ when you have kids together. It’s less ‘ex’ and more ‘next’. The relationship does not end. It evolves. This can feel disappointing, confusing, violating and unfair for a time. Feel all those things for as long as you need to. And one day you’ll emerge through the fog, slightly more accepting of the fact this relationship goes on.
- It’s not your job to protect your kids from feeling the pain of your divorce. They feel it anyway, no matter how much bending, contorting and covering up you attempt. Your job is to sit in the shit with them and let them know you’re human (not perfect) and you love them (not leaving).
- Team parenting is more vital now than it’s ever been. If you’re open to cooperation and your ex is available, lean all the way in to a well-boundaried parental unit together. The solo gig is hard and heavy. Solo is unavoidable to a greater degree (assuming you no longer live with your ex). However, you can still make decisions, reinforce discipline, celebrate the good, face the tough – together. Be as Team as you can tolerate.
- Tell your kids why you split up. They’re not idiots – they won’t swallow the party line. They’re not bone china – they won’t break. This is the single most important event in their life and they deserve the chance to make sense of it. I thought I needed to sanitise the sordid truth for them, but in doing so I was leaving them swimming in a sea of ambiguity. They were denied the dignity of clarity. And the pain I thought I was shielding them from was already within them, manifesting in their ‘whys’, over and over again. Tell your story – respectfully, age and stage appropriately and as accurately as you can – so they can make it part of theirs.
- There’s no ‘right time’ to introduce your new partner to your kids. I worried they’d be mad, sad, or both. I worried they’d reject him, or worse still me. I waited 18 months. I nearly lost my partner because I just couldn’t see how to share my whole self with them. The part of me that is a woman in love, that’s moving on in the world and building something new and bright and exciting. Away from their dad. I thought it would be too much. But the secrecy was tearing me in two. So I told them. And we will work it all out in the light of the truth, together.
- Couples therapy is a lifeline for divorcing parents. You may no longer consider yourself a couple, but the decoupling of your couple takes some expertise and wisdom! The relationship goes on (see point 1) and the quicker you can build back better… the better. Your Time To Talk offers low cost relationship therapy – check out your options.
- Relationship recovery is not linear. The ups and downs, backs and forths are played out in a multifaceted way when you are dealing with a family event like divorce. Be aware of the multiple players in this recovery journey – you, your ex, your kids. Not to mention those family members and friends on the periphery. You’re grieving, adapting, repairing and reimagining. Bit by bit and all at once. It feels messy because it is messy. Approach each other with as much kindness, compassion and patience as you can muster. Approach yourself with all this too.
- There’s no right timeline for finding love after divorce. It may take you years. It may happen at once. It may never happen at all. There’ll be voices saying it’s too soon, or you should get out there again. The loudest voice of all may be in your own head. But we are wildly complex creatures and no one size fits all. As always – follow your curiosity, listen to your gut and remain open to all possibilities. Easier said than done. But you can do it.
- As divorcing parents, you will be asked to be braver then you ever believed you could be. And then braver again. Dealing with the end of your marriage in all its particular heartbreak, whilst delivering the same blow to your kids. Simultaneously feeling shattered to pieces whilst being the glue that holds your kids’ worlds together – is too much for anyone to bear. And yet we do. Somehow. With every phase and stage of divorce. We’re sandwiched between our own pain and theirs. Feeling a double portion. And yet holding down the fort. Nothing’s the same, yet it’s business as usual. It’s damage limitation. And it’s exhausting.
- Find your proverbial bed to rest in. The people and places with whom you can let the whole thing fall down. Where you can wail and rage. Where you can say nothing at all. For as long as you need. Until you’re needed by those who need you again. Wherever you’re at.
Pre, post or in the thick of the deciding. Sending love and solidarity to you and yours.
Understanding your children’s responses
If you’re divorcing parents and would like more information, Young Minds has a useful guide to understanding children’s responses to divorce and separation.
Your Time To Talk supports couples and parents in ending their relationship intentionally and with compassion for each other and their children.