We are often asked how to divorce or break up without hurting the children. In this series we share seven steps to help ensure that that your child stays well-adjusted after your divorce or break up, and is shielded from the fallout of your splitting up with their other parent. This information is taken from DadsRights.org founder and fathers’ rights attorney Anne Mitchell’s book, They’re Your Kids Too. Anne was one of the very first fathers’ rights lawyers in the U.S., and was in private practice, representing fathers and helping them to stay involved with their children, for many years. The information below is based on her long experience helping single fathers and their children, both in and out of court.
In order to help protect your child from any fallout during the reorganization of your family, and to ensure that your child stays happy and well-adjusted throughout, it’s important that you recognize, accept, and even embrace, certain concepts. Sometimes a parent has a hard time accepting these principles, because they run counter to what the parent wants for themselves (or what their friends and family are telling them, it’s important to not let friends and family influence you, or steer you away from doing what you know in your gut and your heart to be right).
It’s ok, and even normal, to have these feelings; it’s just not ok to act on those feelings to the detriment of your children. The following are some steps which single, or soon-to-be-single, parents can take to help ensure that their children remain on course and well-adjusted, during and after a divorce or breakup. These steps may seem obvious to you; unfortunately, what often is not obvious to parents is their own behavior, and how it is perceived by, and impacts, their children.
Here’s Step #1.
Accept and Acknowledge That Your Child Needs an Active, Ongoing Relationship with Both of Their Parents
It can be hard, when breaking up with someone, to remember and accept that while you are breaking up with them, your children are not. No matter how good a parent you may be, and no matter how bad a parent you may personally believe the other person to be, your children need both of you. They need to be able to have an unreserved relationship with their other parent, free from your own views of that parent, and unfettered by concerns that you will be hurt, or love them less, because they still want to spend time with their mother or father.
It’s your situation, your problem, and your breakup. It is not your children’s; don’t make it theirs, and don’t let it become theirs. Your children love both of you, and need both of you, even though you may no longer love or need each other. And they need you to understand this, and to be ok with it. Their love for you won’t be diminished by their love for the other parent; in fact, they will love you more for making it ok for them to also love their other parent.
In addition to the fact that children need both parents, no matter what kind of parents they may be, there is another very good reason for doing whatever you can to encourage your child’s relationship with their other parent: children have a funny habit of growing up. Once out on their own, many children come to recognize that the reality of why they only had one parent around doesn’t always match the picture painted by that parent. More often then not, they will come to resent that parent for interfering with their relationship with the other parent.
There is also one other very good reason to be the parent who encourages your children to spend time with their other parent: if you end up in court the judge will look much more kindly on a parent who encourages their children to spend time with their other parent, and will look unkindly on any parent who discourages it or who keeps the children from being able to have time with their other parent. In fact, in some states this alone can be grounds for a change in custody from the uncooperative parent to the parent who encourages time with the other parent.
But mostly, do it because it’s what’s best for your children.
Bottom line: Encourage and facilitate your children spending time with their other parent.