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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Are the Adults Here?

Divorce can be messy. It can be ugly, it can be gut-wrenching, and it can be hard. A divorce with a custody battle attached can be any parent's worst nightmare. But there is no reason to make it your child's worst nightmare too.

We have all seen parents who get so wrapped up in being an Ex-Wife or an Ex-Husband that they forget they are parents as well. Our responsibilities as parents do not decrease if a marriage goes awry- those responsibilities actually grow. As a parent going through a divorce, you owe it to your child to be an adult.

Did your parents divorce when you were young? If not, ask a friend: they noticed. Kids notice how their parents behave during a divorce. Pre-teen girls can either learn that all men are untrustworthy, or they can learn that even parents make mistakes. Little boys can be told how to "act like a man," or they can see it for themselves. You cannot control the behavior of your ex-partner. If you could, you might not be divorcing in the first place. But you can control your reaction to them. If you need to yell, do it when the kids absolutely cannot hear you. When they are sleeping, they can still hear you. If you need to get something off your chest, don't put that weight onto your child's shoulders. This is not the time to be a friend to your child, and this is not the time for them to be a friend to you. Get into therapy instead.

Lastly, do not vent about or belittle your ex-partner in front of (or even in the same house as) your child. You are angry, and that is okay. But you need your ex-partner to never become an ex-parent. Your child, whether you are comfortable with it or not, needs a relationship with that parent. Their relationship may not be perfect, and it may even require supervision by the Courts until your child is an adult and can make the decision to terminate that relationship, but in order for your child to continue along the path to adulthood they need role models. Role models like you, whom they can emulate, and maybe even role models for behavior they never want to engage in. But what they need most of all is to know who the adults are here.