Since I am a relational person, it always hurts me to see a relationship come to an end. It is difficult to watch, and even more difficult to live through. Nowhere does this hurt more than when a marriage is ending, and especially when kids are involved. As a family, you have shared many memories and created a life together. Those most seriously affected are children caught in the middle of the breakdown of the marriage relationship. I know there are times people just simply cannot work through their issues with each other. However, whether mom and dad stay together or not, they will always have to co-parent. The measure by which parents do this well will determine how much help the kids will receive to get through the transition with as little disruption of their lives as possible.
There are five keys to help parents navigate this difficult time with their kids and to minimize the negative impact. Remember, although you can minimize, there is no way to remove the impact on your kids; it will be the most difficult time of their young lives. Even adult children suffer through the breakup of their parents’ marriage.
- Honour One Another – Don’t let your pain be your kids’ pain. You must find a way to honour the other parent who may have hurt you deeply. It may be difficult to find something for which to honour them. However, if you dishonour them in front of your kids, you will develop a dishonouring attitude in your kids that could one day be turned towards you. Even when you are hurting, you can honour the role their dad or mom has as a dad or mom. In other words, honour the position of father or mother. Far too often I see one parent trying to hurt the other by withholding the kids from the other. This not only hurts the ex, but it hurts the children more because children cannot emotionally process the absence of a parent. By choosing honour, you will raise honourable children.
- Speak Well of One Another – What is in your heart always finds its way to your mouth. It is important to speak well of the other, even when you don’t FEEL that way. It is all too easy to begin to speak badly of one who has hurt us. Words have the power of life and death. When you use them to express your pain, you not only kill the heart of the person to whom they are directed, but it also affects everyone around you. This is especially true for your kids. Never underestimate how much they hear when you are speaking to or about your ex. I know it is important to vent, but find someone to talk with in private. Too many parents vent to their kids about the other parent simply because they are there. This is extremely damaging to their hearts and minds. Kids tell me, “My mommy and daddy hate each other.” When I ask why they think that, they say, “Because they say it all the time.” The bottom line is if you speak highly of their other parent, your kids will speak highly of you.
- Accommodate One Another – Life was busy before you separated; it is going to get even more hectic after. The struggle is real. In addition to working through the emotions, your schedules just doubled up. The best thing you can do for each other and the kids is to be accommodating of one another. It is very important to find a new rhythm that supports the kids within the new reality. The more seamless and consistent you can work through schedules, the more stability you will provide for your kids. The number one thing kids need to thrive is stability, especially through a family break-up. So every time you show flexibility, it speaks to the kids of safety and security. Remember, you are also accommodating your kids and when you do that, they will return the favour when it’s needed most.
- Forgive One Another – I would suggest it will be very difficult if not impossible to use the first three keys without this one. Many people have a misconception about forgiveness. They think it lets the other person get away with what they did, letting them off the hook. However, the opposite is true. It lets YOU off the hook because you are no longer carrying the responsibility for judging their offense against you. Forgiveness is the key to releasing the pain you have stored up in your heart. Healing begins the moment you forgive. Without it, bitterness can set in and as you have heard, it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It eats you from the inside out and erupts in anger. Anger is a secondary emotion, so when you’re angry, it is always because of an underlying pain or frustration. The ending of one relationship affects all other relationships – friends, grandparents, cousins, extended family members, teachers, classmates. The parenting role changes significantly when you parent from separate households. Forgiveness allows you to find new and healthy ways to relate to your ex-partner/spouse and your children. You have a great opportunity to model forgiveness before your kids; they in turn will learn an important life lesson, and may well extend it to you.
- Get Help for One Another – Having a relationship coach gives you someone with a clean perspective to help you navigate changing life dynamics, and mediate when needed. The old saying that perception is reality comes into play, but when a situation is charged with emotions, it is not always true. Having someone who is not emotionally connected can help you wisely co-parent, and it provides an advocate for your children at the same time. I have helped many families through this process. Often where one parent would never listen to the other they did listen to me and I helped them come to an agreement over many aspects of co-parenting. This becomes even more important when one or both of you have entered into new romantic relationships, especially if they also have children. It can get complicated, so having a coach helps untangle the issues and helps navigate daily life. This will model to your children that it’s okay to ask for help. They may even ask you for help when they face conflict with friends.
Before I sign off, I need to say one more thing. All five of these keys can also be used to create healthy relationships, or even to save one that is struggling. If you are reading this because you are contemplating leaving your spouse and wondering how the kids will be impacted, please apply these five keys to your current situation before making that decision. If you need help, please contact me! Something I have discovered in my thirty plus years as a relationship development specialist is that it takes a lot less work to stay together and fight for your marriage and family than it does to walk away in emotional pain, looking for greener pastures. I understand there are some situations, especially when abuse is a factor, where there truly is no other choice. However, if at all possible, it is worth at least giving guided healing of your relationship a try. You, your family, and especially your children, are worth the effort.
Until next time, remember ‘Relationship Matters.’