Protecting children during a separation or divorce
Q: I am going through a divorce and have a young child and two teenagers. Do you have any advice on how I can get through this process with minimal impact on the children?
A: When going through a divorce or separation, there are some “golden rules” that I recommend both parents follow in order to lessen the burden on any children who may be involved.
First, do your best to present a unified front to, and before, your children, so that you do not force them to take sides or to create enmity toward one or the other parent. Do not badmouth your partner, air your “dirty laundry” in front of the children, or say things to inspire judgements or condescension in the children’s minds towards the other, regardless of how you feel. Keep those issues away from the children’s eyes and ears, so they don’t see that and feel forced to choose between the two parents, stuck in the middle, awkward, or (worst of all) like they are to blame. In short, stay out of blame and keep the children out of your battles.
Continue to present to the children, as a united front, the teachings that you held when you were a family unit; on all important topics, such as drugs, premarital sex, swearing, going out, curfew, cleanliness, and chores. Uphold these tenets and guidelines as you always did in your family, prior to the separation.
Unfortunately, most children involved in a separation or divorce ultimately feel they are to blame—that there was something they did, that there is something wrong with them, or that somehow they failed. The more you air your dirty laundry in front of them, the worse damage you’re causing. It doesn’t mean you have to build up and praise your estranged partner, but it is important to acknowledge (and act accordingly) that your estranged partner is still that child’s father or mother, and will always be. The relationship didn’t go where you had hoped and dreamed, but that person helped create your children and a world that you shared together for a period of time. Because of this, there should always be some level of reverence and respect that you maintain towards your former partner (at least in front of your children).
If, however, you choose to be bitter and angry towards that one, you have short-changed yourself. At the level of the Absolute, only love is real; and, when you draw your last breath, you will see all the goodness that you were too ignorant and petty to recognize. Even if your relationship is not on the best of terms, or your partner is very adversarial or violent, and you’re not, be the Christed one and hold onto these truths.
It is critical that you reinforce to your children that your separation has nothing to do with them, that it is not their fault; that they are the most beautiful children in the world, the greatest gift you’ve ever had; that you are so grateful to them for everything you’ve shared; and that you love them wholly and completely and you will always be there for them.
There are cases where one parent chooses to disown their own children, and then the other parent will need to explain: “Why doesn’t mummy want me? Why doesn’t daddy like me?” But again, avoid badmouthing and condemning the other partner, even when something ostensibly non-loving as this might be taking place. At the same time, you don’t want to defend a partner to a child if that’s going to entail lying or deceit, because the soul of that child knows the truth at all times (as does every soul), and they will ultimately resent you for lying.
This is what I call the “diamond cutting” of parenthood.
If you have a partner who is behaving in non-loving ways, and the children need guidance and coaching, always share the truth with them in a way that is age appropriate, from child to child. For instance, you wouldn’t share the same message simultaneously with a three-, ten-, and an eighteen-year-old. Children of those ages are three worlds apart and, therefore, need to be spoken to differently. There might be some things you could share at the same time, but the onus is on the parent to have the wisdom, intelligence, and discernment to know what to say to whom, when, how, why, and where; without judgement or condemnation, and with truth, kindness, and respect. This is a very refined art.
Lastly, have patience and compassion with yourself, recognizing that you might not score an “A-plus” every single time, but do your very best. And when you “fall off the horse” or step out of line, then clean it up. Make apologies, restitution where needed, recommit, and recreate yourself anew.
This is the best way you can go through a divorce or separation with the most minimal impact upon your children.