Divorce is never easy – but here’s what your kids need most from you

There’s no such thing as an “easy divorce” – for anyone involved. Kids of divorce feel like a dried-out turkey wishbone after Thanksgiving, with Mom pulling at one end and Dad the other.

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“Why did my family have to fall apart?”

“If Mom and Dad don’t love each other, will they no longer love me?”

“If Dad leaves, will I not see him again? Will Mom leave too?”

“Is this my fault? Do they hate me?”

“What if we can’t keep our house? Will I have to move? Change schools?”

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“Will Mom and Dad split us kids up? I don’t always like my sister, but I want to live with her…”

Most parents launch into the “it’s not your fault” frenzy, thinking that’ll be easier on the kids. “This is between us, the adults,” they say. “It has nothing to do with you.”

Nothing to do with me? It has everything to do with me, a kid thinks. Such a sucker punch tears life apart as they know it. Some common defense mechanisms are: acting like the divorce doesn’t matter; hiding out and hoping it’ll all blow over; acting “adult” and calming a ruffled parent’s feathers; playing the “equal time” game so neither parent feels hurt or left out; angrily striking out at everyone around him; becoming even more of a drama queen.

Underneath these behaviors is a boatload of hurt. You’re hurting too, so what can you do? And what do your kids need most from you?

They need you to be the adult.

With divorce’s bomb, he’s understandably upset, especially if he’s already part of the hormone group. So give him some grace, but don’t excuse disrespect and foul language. Though the heat of the moment isn’t the best time to take on negative behaviors, the next day is fair game: “Let’s circle back to what happened yesterday. I know you’re hurting, but what you said really hurt me. I’m your mother – not your psychological punching bag. We will get through this tough time, but I want to do that in a healthy way. I’ll do my part the best I can, and I need you to do your part the best you can too. Can we agree on that?”

Be the decisive leader your kid needs – supportive, understanding, positive, action-oriented – and you’ll provide a stable environment even in a stressful time.

They don’t need to be bounced around like a rubber ball. Guilt is the propellant for most lousy decisions after a divorce, so make as few changes as possible. Yes, you might need to switch housing or school districts, but keep things as close to “normal” as you can – including staying connected to her old friends.

With most divorces, parents want to do the 50/50 kid split, but that approach takes a toll on already-stressed kids. That’s why – as improbable and crazy as it might sound – I tell divorcing couples, “If you’re so high on having to spend equal time with your kid, then you two move from place to place and let the kid stay in his own home.” After all, who’s the adult here?

They don’t need to play the “Dad v. Mom Game.”

Your ex isn’t likely your favorite person, but don’t use your kids as a sounding board for your squabbles. Putting down your ex is only asking your kids to make him into “Father of the Year.” So, for their sake, extend an olive branch – as much as he might not deserve it. Don’t extract information about what they did at your ex’s or who was there. You aren’t licensed to be a private eye. Instead, provide a warm environment (food helps!) and some non-stressed space to return to. If they want to talk, believe me, they will – of their own volition – and you’ll learn a lot more than any extraction technique known to humankind.