For many parents, one of the most excruciating aspects of divorce is the impact on kids. Many endure marriages long beyond the point of being bearable for the “sake” of the kids. Some come to the realization that kids are also impacted by being raised in an tension filled environment. They choose to to take care of themselves, knowing that kids are resilient and figuring it is better to grow up with happy parents who are separate than unhappy parents who are together. This is not an easy decision.
While parents ride the emotional roller coaster of divorce, they also need to support their kids through all their losses, stressors and transitions. This requires tremendous energy and can be exhausting at a time that is already very challenging. Because desiring a sexual or romantic relationship is a normal part of adulthood, many divorcing/divorced parents also find themselves coaching their kids on how to adjust to a new person in your lives.
In my practice, I coach clients who are going through divorce and introducing their kids to a new relationship to do the following:
- Be Empathic
- Empathy is the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and understand how they may feel. Be empathic to your child whose feelings (fear, loss, anger, sadness) are a normal response to this transition. Sometimes kids “up the ante” through acting out and other behaviors if they feel unheard by their parents. Therefore, empathy is an extremely important tool in helping your children to feel connected and supported. .
- Maintain Perspective
- Parents need to keep in mind that a child’s emotional experience may be far different from their own. A parent might feel relief or anger as a result of divorce while a child may be overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and fear. Sometimes kids express more anger at the parent with whom they have a more secure attachment or relationship. Other children will accept one parent having a new partner but not the other. Understand this is normal and temporary.
- Manage Expectations
- Parents may want their children to be able to be happy about the new lives of the parents as separate individuals. But parents may be further along in the grief and transition process, and they often make the mistake of expecting their kids to be in the same place. Understand that it may take much longer for children to adjust. They have fewer emotional and intellectual resources to help them cope and process change. Accept that this process is going to take time and there will be bumps along the way.
- Practice Detachment
- Parents need to dig deep and harness the ability to tolerate their kids’ difficult emotions and not get “hooked” and become reactive. You can be lovingly present for your kids while also being separate from them and their emotional process. Detachment requires good boundaries and good self-care. It also requires the ability to “let go”—to breathe out your kids’ stuff and release the tendency to want to control their emotional process.
- Maintain Good Boundaries
- Parents need to be have good boundaries with their children (emotional, informational, etc.) especially as they relate to their ex and any new romantic interest or partner. Parents should be mindful not to triangulate the children in issues with their ex. Kids need to be ableto have a healthy relationship with both parents and it shouldn’t be influenced by the parents’ feelings about each other.
- The introduction of a new person needs to be handled with respect and care. Wait to introduce new romantic interests to your kids until the relationship is exclusive and stable. Understand your kids need time with you without your new love interest. Sleepovers may not be a good option until the relationship has been exclusive for one year and the kids have adjusted to the new person in their life. Remember boyfriends/girlfriends are not stepparents. Introducing a partner too late can create feelings of distrust and betrayal. This is a delicate dance.
- Be Honest & Direct
- Be honest and clear with your kids, while keeping it age appropriate. What you share with your 18-year-old will be different than what you share with your 5-year- old. Over sharing or under sharing can create different issues and problems. Dating can be an opportunity to illustrate for your kids how to navigate through life and relationships in a positive way.
- Get Support
- Talk to friends, read books, attend a support group or see a therapist. Get your kids support as well, even if they protest. Do your best to remember that the most painful transitions in life often offer the opportunity for the deepest healing and growth. Reassure your children that your love for them is unconditional and keep your eyes on a life vision of peace, love and happiness for you all.
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Marter, J. (2013). How to Help Children Cope with Your Divorce & New Romance. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/success/2013/09/how-to-help-children-cope-with-your-divorce-new-romance/