After a Divorce, Be the Good Vibes

So there is this yucky co-parenting cloud around you and your child. You and your fellow co-parent are not communicating effectively or maybe even respectfully. You are deeply concerned about the effect this is having on your child’s overall wellness. How does a parent in this situation manage? No matter how you choose to deal, the best foundation is to grab all your mindfulness skills. Magnificently useful for when we have absolutely zero control over a situation. So accepting that when your child is not with you, the parenting method is either an unknown or known and deeply disliked, is where you begin to sit. This is no easy task but it brings you into reality, where your child really needs you to be. Here you can monitor their safety, monitor their stress level and then bring them the good vibes.

The stress and worry you feel can be overwhelming. Use the mindfulness skill of keeping things in perspective. Especially immediately after a separation or divorce, parents may each be in their own personal crisis. This may eventually subside and leave space for higher functioning communication. And if this does not happen for your family, you are about to become a parent warrior, able to manage more difficult parenting decisions and challenges than you ever imagined.

The way in which you navigate this situation will be crucial for your child’s sense of safety, security in their relationships, their identity, self-esteem and general functioning. These are all still on the table for your little one. They can absolutely have these things even as the child of a less than perfect divorce. I’m listing our tips today in order from absolutely crucial to regular crucial. So let’s start raining some good vibes down on your kiddo.

1. Be a well-nourished parent.  Don’t skip over this! I know you are crazy busy and it feels like this is the thing you have to sacrifice, I rarely say this but That Would Be a Mistake. If you have ongoing resistance to your own self-care, I guarantee this crisis has the potential to kick start a Me First mentality that will greatly benefit your parenting. We talk about parent self-care in every episode, you guys know it’s foundational, in this case it’s survival. So strap on that oxygen mask, for a Wide Awake parent this is your nutrition, connections, inspiration and right to transform. Now here is how you get an oxygen mask on your baby. . .

2. Be curious about your child's experience. You may not want to hear about the fun your child is having with their other parent, or the disappointment your child experiences there. You may not feel ready to hear about the new details of your ex’s life. This is an example of where your self-care is important. It’s crucial you are open to everything your child wants to share about their experience, and you need to be well supported in your connections and nourishment if you are going to be able to authentically handle this task. Your child can tell if you are begrudgingly listening or truly open to what they want you to understand. This is how your child is processing this big change and it’s the best way for you to monitor their safety if it’s a concern. Because if they are at all confused they will start to run that stuff by you. It’s important to find a balance here as some parents may have the urge to interrogate their child after a visit with their other parent. I think we can all understand why someone wants to do this but it’s incredibly stressful to your child. You also risk leading a child to answer questions falsely, in a way they hope pleases you or hope gets you off their back. This will cause them to eventually clam up or give you inaccurate information. Your assignment is simple: be open, be curious and be a great listener for your child.

3. Accept their thoughts and feelings about the process. You followed Tip #2 and have been listening with curiosity, but your child’s hurt, confusion, excitement and anger are bound to bring up lots of your own heavy emotions around this big change. One of the most painful parts of a separation is that the family is not coordinated in their emotional response. Everyone is grieving in their own way and at their own pace. The style your ex or children are grieving may cause you to become upset. Find friends and family to validate your experience and place in your grief, so that you can do th same for your child and accept all their feelings about this process.

4. Help them create a safe haven.  When our children are with us we feel a certain sense of ease because we can monitor them and keep them safe. Teaching our children skills to do this for themselves is empowering for their development and its a great preventative measure to keep them as safe as possible when you are not around. If you haven’t done so already, begin educating your child about their body, personal boundaries and keeping secrets. For some this is uncomfortable to discuss so find a book that fits your values communication style to help anchor this conversation for you. Begin incorporating it into your weekly routine. Look for situations where your child is learning about boundaries with their peers and use these as opportunities to help them think about their own boundaries, what makes them comfortable and what do when they aren’t. Finally, talk about the danger of secret keeping. It’s totally acceptable for us to want privacy in our new household but if you or the other parent are asking your child to keep secrets from each other, you are priming your child to accept this as normal and be more susceptible to abuse from a peer or dangerous adult. Abusers will try to convince them to keep abuse a secret from those whom would help. So lose the term secret from your vocabulary, besides, you guys, secrets don’t make friends right?

5. Be compassionate and non-judgmental. Your child may be hearing a lot of negative comments right now, so let their time with you be fresh air. If you are worried about safety- being curious, open, calm and nonjudgmental is the best way to ensure your child will feel comfortable enough to bring their concerns to you. Holding their other parent in a non-judgmental light will also help them to more authentically examine their feelings about what is going on. Keep in mind that no matter what their other parent has done, this child will build half of their identity from this parent. They will use both of you to narrate their own story and beliefs about who they are, so hold that other parent as gently as possible in your mind so your child has the opportunity to hold themself with as much care and compassion as possible. This does not mean you have to make flowery or untrue statements about their parent. If these things aren’t true it will just confuse your child and cause them not to trust their own judgment. Again, just listen to their perspective and validate it.

6. Keep your opinions to yourself. I’m going to say it again, their parent is half of them, they will form their identity and their self-esteem from their relationship with you both.  They will identify with the things you say about the other parent, you may see them as separate but your child does not. Keeping your opinions to yourself is the best practice here. Besides your opinions may change and if you are not communicating clearly with each other than you don't have the full story anyways. For your child’s development of emotional intelligence, self-esteem and trust in their own voice and judgement, you want them to know exactly how THEY feel. At this time you don’t want them worried by your thoughts, or your friend’s and family’s negative appraisal of their other parent. So keep mum and keep validating your child’s experience of their other parent and of you.

7. Hold the structure. Ice cream for dinner does get you immediate smiles but parenting is a long game practice. Check in with your parenting intentions. Don’t let your values go out the window in order to compete with a parent who’s head is not in the game. We all feel the best when we are well nourished, well rested and have structures in our routine and in our relationships. If it’s an unpredictable party at the other home, keep in mind that this is exhausting for your child and does not allow them to build trust in that space or the people in it. Be the adult, make sure your child has a safe haven of structure when they are with you. You can still serve ice cream, after a dinner with lots of yummy nourishment.

8. Enjoy your 1 on 1 time. When your child is with you, be present. Take time to be curious and playful together as well as reflective.  Focus on the relationship between YOU and your CHILD.  Resist the urge to introduce them to the new people in your life, especially if your time together is limited.  They are just not going to be as excited about these relationships as you are and they may already see you less than they are used to, sharing you with someone new is a lot to ask. They may get attached to your new relationship and when it ends they are hurt, confused and you may see them act out the grieving process all over again.  We trust people that are constant, taking them on a relationship merry go round will degrade this trust. So of course, introduce them to a new partner, but give the relationship time and let the adults handle as much of the adjustments before you involve your child.

9. Show them how strong you are. When you are being bad mouthed in front of your own child, the feelings are intense. Plan to get support and practice some serious self-care. In the moment, let your child know that they don’t have to worry about you, or defend you but you are sorry they had to hear that. Many parents are fearful these comments will color their child’s opinion, it will, but not of you. In most cases, you can have faith in human intelligence, your child will form their own opinions and relationships based on your actions and the time you spend together. It may not be today, or even this year but eventually your child will understand the difference between relating toxically and not (you have to be the not). Note: In severe situations it can be detrimental to the relationship between a parent and child (especially a very young child), trust your gut and seek legal advice if you feel this is happening.

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Kirsten Kuzirian