How can I make sure that our family does not become estranged? We are divorcing and have two kids. Of course, I am angry now, but I know our kids need both of us. I’ve seen it happen to so many families. It tears them apart. I want to find a way to help our family manage this new life. I do not want anger and hurt to fill up the coming years. How do I do that?
The very fact you can identify what you do not want to happen with your divorce is a major first step. Acknowledging your present anger is another. Be mindful that what we want and what we get post-divorce can be different because there are two people involved in this divorce.
First you need to determine your expectations within the new family structure. Take it one step at a time. What does the immediate future look like if both parents participate in family life? How much mutual engagement is necessary to achieve what you want? Will you be friends and what could that look like going forward?
Then you need to define the parameters. As an example, there will be school events. How does that look? Do you stand or sit together? Do you acknowledge each other? Your children will not want to be stressed about how their parents behave with each other in a public place. Ground rules need to be established. Honesty and respect are key. School events are not the time to discuss divorce agreements.
Be truthful if, initially, all you can do is be at these events separately and on different days for now. Make a commitment to yourself to grow into less restrictions when these situations arise. Accept that you may be able to get to that place and you may not.
There are boundaries in place that were not there before. That is something to accept. Include your children in the parameters of these boundaries.
An example is considering how accessible the home is to the leaving spouse. Do they have a key? Do they knock? Can they be there with your children when you are not there?
These arrangements can change over time. You may need your space right now. Being clear about what you can and cannot do and what feels most comfortable is important. This does not mean you are being unreasonable. It means you are being honest with yourself and taking the time to know yourself at this new stage of life. There are probably things you simply cannot agree to, and you need to accept your own limits.
Your children have no doubt witnessed arguments leading up to the separation. They will feel some stress over any time you are together. It takes time to regain their trust and make those family times stress-free.
How you and your partner behave now is an example to your children. They are living their worst fear. Children naturally worry about the day their parents might divorce and now it has become a reality for them.
Accept you will make mistakes and your former spouse will too. Acknowledge those mistakes and at an appropriate time talk to your children about them. Focus more on the problem-solving you did to get past a mistake and less on the emotion that drove the incident.
Oversharing can become an issue through separation and divorce. It can be divisive. It can also be the impetus for family estrangement. Your hope for the family is a positive goal and will guide you through rebuilding a new family structure. It will take time and there will be setbacks.
Life gets in the way. There are more stressful situations ahead and they can impact your goal. Be patient. There is a line between frustration with disappointment over a change of plans or a forgetful former spouse and that incident becoming one of anger and resentment.
How you manage these situations not only gets you closer to your goal but also helps you move beyond the intense emotional effects of the immediate aftermath of the separation.
Remember that situations can change over time as everyone heals. You do want normalcy, but you have both come through a very emotional time and both of you need time to process and heal. That will happen at its own pace for each of you. Arguments will occur. Aim to reach a resolution quickly.
Own your mistakes but limit your regrets. We are not perfect. You are their parent now and forever and so is your former spouse. Remember that it takes two committed parents to make sure that family estrangement does not happen.
You may feel it should all look a certain way post-divorce, but your former spouse might see commitment in a different way. Be prepared to make compromises on your vision.
It requires work and consistency. It takes time. Think of ways to deal with your frustration if family relationships don’t unfold the way you want them.
Celebrate your wins. When both parents invest in their children’s future, they are creating a connection that lives outside the divorce.
About Linda Simpson
“I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl
Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.
As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.
She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.
She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’
In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.
She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.
She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.