Parenting Etiquette 101
We have heard it all, the parent who is “crazy,” the parent who is fueled by “revenge,” and the parent who is simply beaten down by divorce.
It is over, but not for the kids
The love story ends and all that is left are the empty promises, unfulfilled responsibilities, and a trunk full of betrayal.
No one wants to imagine that their happy marriage is over, or that resentment and betrayal have poisoned a once beautiful love story, but it happens. We cannot control or predict the trajectory of our marriage, but we could have some ground rules when things don’t work out. Divorce does not have to mean World War III. This is even more critical when children are involved.
Your parental responsibility
You have two primary responsibilities; one is for you, you cannot disintegrate or implode because of an impending divorce, secondly, you have a responsibility to your child or children. It is also critical to acknowledge that change is coming, with that in mind it is best to keep all other aspects of your child’s life, the same.
Keep things as “normal” as possible
If they have practice on MWF at 4:30 at the park, they go to practice. If they usually spend the night at a friend’s house on Friday nights, encourage them to continue this. The child needs consistency and predictability in what may feel a totally out of control situation (their parent’s separation/divorce).
How to engage with ex-spouse in public
Treat your spouse as you would a stranger, be polite and kind. If you are flooded with emotions, that is normal, excuse yourself, take some deep breathes and remind yourself it is just for a short time. It is OK if your child sees you crying, how could you know be hurt, frustrated and angry. You can tell your child, “This is a little tough for me, but I am OK.” They need to know that you are human too. You are not supposed to be an emotionless robot, this is not beneficial for either you or your child.
You child’s responsibility is to be a kid, period. They get to have whatever range of emotion they have, and we adults get to help them process those emotions. What that means is simply listening, holding, or hugging them and or answering questions they might have about what happens next, why divorce etc. You do not give the child details about infidelity or addiction, and you do not discuss intimate details about your relationship, your finances, and no matter what you do not berate your ex-spouse. Your child cannot nor should they be required to hold or process such intimate details. That will only confuse and potentially embitter them toward the other parent. You do not want to do that for your sake and for your child’s sake.
Keep it simple
Responding to question from your child will depend on the age of the child. Base your answer on what they can understand. Be sure you have a plan before you sit down with the child, have all the logistics figured out, custody, who stays in the home, who has a new place, and those details. The child needs to know that they are going to be OK. It needs to be clear that you are not going to stop loving them seeing them or somehow going to stop being their parent. Assure them that the divorce is not due to anything they have done, let them know that it is an adult decision. This should be done under the best circumstances, as a united front. This is the time to be tender and loving.
Act as if
The difficulty of the new circumstances may be excruciating and devastating to you, but it is important that you “act as if” you are handling it. Children are extremely perceptive and may feel obligated to support you and worry about you and become focused or at least preoccupied with your emotional stated. Please understand, it is not nor cannot be their job to take care of you. This is a dynamic no child and parent should have, be mindful of how you are engaging with your child. The moment you sense they are trying to accommodate and take care of you is the exact moment you remind them that you are the parent, you are adult, and you can take care of yourself (even if it feels like a false statement) give the child their role a child back.
If you are struggling and falling apart, reach out to others. Find safe people you can get love and support from. Stay focused on you, not on what or what not the ex-spouse did, you need your own team of support and healing. Step up the self-care as your child is expecting you to take the lead. By getting support from others, you are showing your child that we are not alone in this world and when things get tough, you can ask for help. Maybe that looks like asking your neighbor if they would like to come over for a family dinner. If you have a friend from out of town, maybe they can come for a visit. You have no idea who can show up for you and what miracles can happen unless you ask.
There are also support groups in person, online and therapy that can help you process the feeling that are associated with divorce. There should be absolutely no shame in getting help. In fact, if you do not deal with your feelings, guess what? Your feelings slip out anyway, but most likely sideways; in the form of anger, sarcasm, curtness, depression, overeating/undereating, and other unpleasant forms.
Be grateful you are not still married
When your ex acts like an ass, be grateful you are not married to them. If your ex becomes an irate, aggressive jerk, be grateful you are not married to them. You are not responsible for how you ex acts, what they say, what they do, who they befriend, who they date or any radical decisions they make. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself. Be the best parent you can to yourself and to your child.
Of course, if your ex is in anyway abusive or aggressive toward you or the child, get away from them and get help. If they are just making an ass out of themselves, let them.
Remember you don’t have to deal with your ex
Just like the irritating peer, colleague, or boss, you do not have to engage. What does that look like? It means you have a plan or strategy if you are expected to see or run into each other. This plan can be as simple as excusing yourself to the bathroom, it could mean bringing your BFF with you for the event, or it can mean sitting somewhere else away from them.
It could also mean that you must be creative and come up with a stealth plan of action. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. You should never feel trapped. If they bring a “new” friend, remember you have no idea who they are, what they know, so just keep your cool.
My pet peeves
By the way, opinion here. I believe it is selfish to bring a new date or love interest to a kid-focused event like; parent night at school, sports games, school graduation, Bar-mitzvah, a birthday party, and other events. Again, the focus needs to be on the kid. The child wants their parents. They should not have to share the arena with a new person. It is not fair, it is not focusing on the child, and it is not appropriate.
Make the choice
Make the choice that you are going to set the tone for how this family accepts and deals with divorce. This includes talking to your friends and family ahead of time and letting them know what is going on and what you need from them. You may not know exactly how they can help you, but you could provide some ground rules. This is not the time for them to be asking for and prying for details if anyone does, let them know you are having a difficult time are not focused on the details, but one being present for yourself and your child. Who is going to argue with that?
Berating and bad mouthing your spouse
Ugh…this is always painful to witness. There is never an appropriate time to berate or bad mouth your ex to the child. No Exceptions. Love is love and your child should not have to be a soundboard for your hurt, for your disappointment and anger. This is such an obvious concept, but so difficult to put into action. Berating your ex, can easily backfire and cause your child to pick sides and feel protective of the other parent. Not a what any child wants to do.
Please do not force anyone to pick sides. There should not be team A or team B.
No teams- means that there should not be one team that is supporting and loving you and another team supporting and loving them. This is not a vote, nor should it be a competition of one or the other. There are clearly alliances. These alliances do not have to be contentious. It is your responsibility to tell your family that you do not want them to critic or bash your ex either. Friends may feel obligated to side with one partner or the other, is that necessary, not really. When the focus is on the kids, this is the best scenario.
Friends may feel obligated to side with one partner or the other, is that necessary, not really. I believe if you are kind and supportive, be that to both parties. Organic alliances are what they are, stay connected to those that are taking care of you.
Again, you set the tone. The most important players in the divorce are the children.
Focus on the child. If this is your focus, you won’t have to obsess about your ex. The health and happiness of your child should be priority number ONE. The best scenarios for kids from divorce is that they know without a doubt that they are loved, supported, and cared for by their parents. Even if parents have different parenting styles, different expectations, and different rules at their home, child are resilient and are flexible, they can adjust and adjust well to the differences. They do not adjust well as witnesses and or collateral damage to a contentious divorce.
- Be a mature parent, this helps from the start
- Help maintain the child’s schedule as much as possible
- Divide responsibilities like driving to and from school
- Encourage phone calls and contact between parents
- Put your ego & grievances aside