Anyone who has experienced divorce—either themselves or through a loved one—knows it can be one of the most difficult ordeals someone can go through.
As the separation and divorce process progresses, emotions are typically high—especially if the couple has children together. Parents’ emotional turmoil during the divorce process and post-divorce comes not only from grief, sadness, and the effects of massive life change, but from love and concern for their children.
Here, we offer helpful tips to minimize stress for families going through divorce. One thing we can agree on: It can be very challenging to maintain perspective while going through a separation and divorce; but if you can, it’s better for your mental and physical health – and most importantly, it’s best for the kids involved.
1. Don’t Play the Blame Game
“Oftentimes, one party feels that the other is ‘responsible’ or ‘to blame’ for the divorce,” Petrelli told FoxNews.com. “Ultimately, if you are going through a divorce, it does not matter who's at fault. People spend more time placing blame on their former partners; wasting time, energy, and resources, than they do worrying about the well-being of their children. In most cases, they are trying to save face with their friends, family or themselves.”
Paone said it's incredibly easy to lose perspective of what's important during the circumstances, and while you might think your kids can't see you arguing, they are actually very adept when it comes to parents' feelings.
"It may feel good in the short-run to bash your ex in front of your children, and want to get them on ‘your side.’ Keep in mind this is not only unfair, but alienating – it can be confusing for children if they begin to feel animosity towards one parent when they don’t understand where those feelings come from,” she said.
2. Custody Is Not a Battle to Be Won
“It may sound trite, but the most important thing that parents must remember when working out their children’s schedule is that it’s not all about them – it’s about their children,” Paone said. “If you find yourself getting stressed or angry with your ex while organizing schedules or changing plans, ask yourself, ‘Am I upset because this arrangement is bad for my child, or am I upset because I am frustrated with my ex?’"
Paone added it is extremely important that both parents try not to put the other parent down in front of their children – this only causes discomfort for kids and leads to them hiding their emotions from one or both parents in the future.
"Despite the fact that schedules are worked out in custody agreements, clients often contact me weeks, months, or even years after divorce due to unhappiness with arrangements," Petrelli said. "Fortunately, custody arrangements are never set in stone and can typically be revisited.”
3. Acknowledge Change
Petrelli said he sees firsthand that “co-parenting is very different when parents live in different households."
"I receive countless calls from clients expressing their displeasure over what their children are doing, eating, watching, etc. when with the other parent,” he added.
Instead of trying to influence the time your children spend with your ex, Paone said, “As hard as it sounds, one thing every divorced parent must learn is that they must relinquish control. Unless your ex is putting your child’s life or their own life in danger, you need to accept that having less control or different rules when your child is with their other parent is part of being divorced.”
4. Keep an Open Mind
Most divorced parents eventually re-enter the dating game.
“Clients often express frustration or anger with their former spouse and co-parent when they begin a new relationship and expose their child to the new person in their life,” Petrelli said.
This can be one of the biggest challenges you face after divorce.
"It is difficult to see someone you were once married to enter into a new relationship; even more unsettling is having this person spend time with your ex and child," Paone said. "This is a role that used to be yours, and it is completely normal to feel as though you are being ‘replaced.’"
Paone said a respectful co-parent should advise you they are dating someone new first, letting you know they intend to introduce this person to the child(ren). If he/she fails to do this, it is completely appropriate (if approached respectfully) to ask to meet the new person in your child’s life.
It is important that you do not “bad mouth” this person to your child, she added. "Children must learn to formulate their own opinions about people, so allow them this opportunity without your input (good or bad)."
Tina Paone is the clinical director of Montgomeryville, Pa.-based Counseling Center at Heritage, a full-service counseling practice which specializes in play therapy for children and family counseling. In addition to running her practice, Paone is a university professor and counselor educator.
Thomas Petrelli, Esq., a partner with Philadelphia-based Sacks, Weston, Petrelli, Diamond and Millstein has more than a decade of experience in family law. Petrelli is the founder of FlashDivorce.com, an affordable divorce alternative for couples residing in Pennsylvania, and the owner and CEO of Divorce Done Right, a market leader in resolving family conflict and disputes in an amicable and cost-effective manner with divorce mediation throughout the mid-Atlantic region and Florida.