“I haven’t spoken to my girls in 4 months”
“She’s turned both of them against me”
“My boys can’t do football because their Dad refuses to take them on his weekends”
“He just drops in whenever he wants. I know it’s great for the kids but I can’t plan anything and I can’t get over him because I don’t have any space”
Sadly, these and countless more examples of post divorce parenting nightmares are things we hear at Divorce Club all the time.
Parenting blues are common themes at our meetups
Divorce Club was set up to be a place online and in the real world where divorcees can meet and chat to each other to lessen the emotional burden of divorce. As people turn up to gee each other along or share their woes, talk of children comes up time and time again.
It’s heart breaking to hear some of the stories and as someone who has been privy to lots of them, I’d like to offer a few tips for parents who are in the throes of divorce based on the experiences of those that have done it. Names and stories have been altered.
What Divorce Clubbers learned the hard way about parenting after divorce
1. If your partner has been unfaithful, don’t withdraw access to the children to punish them
We hear time and again from people (almost exclusively men) who have been denied access to their children after infidelity. This can take the form of the custodial parent messing around with the diary – cancelling weekend access, being late or pretending the children are sick.
Even worse, some angry spouses even tell their children about their parent’s infidelity in order to become the injured party and drive a wedge between their kids and the other parent. Thus stopping the children from wanting to see them.
If you are tempted to do this, please, please don’t. Feelings of pain and betrayal after infidelity are understandable but you do not need to inflict these on your children too. They will also feel hurt and betrayed, but also have extraordinarily difficult conflicting feelings. After all they are the flesh and blood of your ex’s and he or she is part of who they are.
Also try to remember that your ex may have been a lousy partner, but it doesn’t mean they are a lousy parent. Parents love their children and the children have a right to that love even if it’s from a flawed human being.
2. Do not try to poison your children against your ex
Frank hasn’t seen his children in 18 months. He is a wreck. His wife has told his teenage girls about his flirting with someone from work and now they refuse to see him.
Amit had to go to court to clear his name after his ex accused him of assault.
Amy had to move her children from their school after her husband told all the school parents lies about things she had said about them, making her and the children’s lives unbearable.
No matter what a rotten scoundrel your ex is, please don’t try to ruin their lives, either by making their lives difficult or poisoning your kids against them. It hurts everyone in the long run. You might want your ex to suffer, but your children will suffer too.
Remember your children love both of you, however misguided that may be! It’s natural and you should allow that love to flourish even if your own has withered.
3. If you can resist venting against your ex now, it can pay off in buckets later
John and Marilyn mutually decided to split after years of relationship ups and downs and arguments. They hoped they could be civil, but they hadn’t managed to get through the last year without frequent bouts of shouting and cross words.
John didn’t trust Marilyn any more, didn’t massively like her and just seeing her often made him angry, but he always recognised that she was a brilliant mum to their kids.
During their handovers he bit his tongue again and again – not always – but he fought to avoid rows as much as possible.
Now they still wind each other up but view each other as friends and have even been on a family holiday together. The children have come through the divorce balanced and healthy with minimal suffering.
Biting your tongue now can really lead to a more positive and happy relationship later. After all, you’ve decided to split so what’s the point in unloading any more home truths now. It’s only going to make things worse.
Concentrate on the smoothest transactions possible from now on, and eventually the angry feelings will recede into the past, and possibly lead to a more positive relationship.
4. Create a minimal contact period if you can – ask family and friends to help
Shelina and Rajat are newly divorced and she is determined to let him have as much access to the children as she can.
However his constant popping in without notice over the last few months has given her no space to grieve and move on from her relationship. He is constantly in her space.
Striving to make sure your kids have full access to Mum AND Dad is a wonderful goal.
However, it can be very difficult to go straight from being married to a co-parenting relationship without having some space in between.
Easier said than done when your ex is popping around all the time to see the children.
Try to create a bit of space for yourself during the period of transition. Ask for a bit of notice before your ex comes and get family and friends to occasionally be there to do handovers for you.
Perhaps the visiting parent can take the children out, or meet on neutral ground instead of coming into the home.
Explain to your ex that this is not an act of hostility, but just a bit of space for you to help you move on. When you feel stronger about seeing them, you can start to be more present again.
5. Your children grow up, and then they will make their own minds up
Think to the future!
If you deny your kids access to a beloved parent or tell them things about your ex that aren’t true, sooner or later your chickens are going to come home to roost.
Children grow up and make their own minds up.
They also mellow with age. What can seem very black and white when young, becomes more nuanced when people get older.
When Mike got divorced, Carly only allowed him to see their children for 2 hours a week. She refused to communicate with him via phone or email, insisting on passing notes between them via the children.
He often only found out about key events in their lives long after they had happened. Hospital visits, achievements, failures.
One day his eldest son turned up on his doorstep, unannounced.
“I can see why you divorced her.”
Mike had always been very careful not to badmouth his ex to his children, despite his (very strong) feelings about the way she behaved.
He continued to exercise caution in the way he spoke about Carly, but gradually found that his eldest son was making up his own mind about things and wanted to hear his father’s side of the story.
Carly will have to work hard to regain the trust and respect of her son, who is now deeply suspicious of his mother. This could have been so easily avoided if she had been more open to allowing her children to have a better relationship with their father from the get go.
6. How you treat your ex is modelling relationships to your children
Your relationship with your ex is a demonstration to your children of how key relationships work. This is the model they will learn.
They learn how men speak to women and vice versa.
They learn about how conflict works in relationships.
They learn whether manipulation or control is a tool in relationships – or aggression.
Think about the person you want your children to be when they grow up. How do you want them to treat people and be treated? You may not be able to control your ex’s behaviour but you can control your own and be a brilliant role model to your kids.
Similarly, keeping both parents in your life gives your children a chance to learn from both of you. If your ex is flaky or has some less than endearing qualities, don’t be too quick to despair. Children can learn useful lessons from less than perfect behaviour, like resiliance, the ability to question adults and coping skills.
7. Go out of your comfort zone and do things together if you can.
At Divorce Club we know a few parents who really gritted their teeth and did the last thing they wanted to – spent time with their ex and children all together.
We don’t recommend doing this a lot because you also need your space and time to get over the end of the relationship.
However, being able to spend time as a family on occasions is something that can have enormous benefits long term.
Almost a year after they decided to separate, Alice and James went on holiday together with the children and James’s new partner. Alice and his new partner got on well but it was a bit weird all the same. James and Alice mostly got on OK with one or two small arguments, but the children enjoyed them all being together.
After the holiday, everyone agreed that perhaps it was a bit too soon and not entirely successful.
However, having done it once, the family did end up spending more free time together and eventually going on group holidays with other friends and family together, and enjoying it much more.
Nick and Evalina tried to have an amicable divorce even though they weren’t getting on very well. But Nick often turned up to DC meetups telling us about the day they’d just had out together with their little girl. She loved it when they all spent time together.
His take on it was that it wasn’t his choice but he was happy to see how thrilled his little girl was. He was willing to keep it up for her sake.
Things haven’t changed much in the meantime, but what he has a is a very rich and happy relationship with his daughter, which he feels is worth the slightly awkward time with his ex.
8. Don’t move away straight after divorce
Several people at our meetups have to commute over a hundred miles to see their children because their partners moved away as soon as they could.
Obviously, you have to do what is right for you and your family and often finances dictate where you live. Living in the London area is very expensive. However, it makes it much harder for children and parents to have a loving, stable relationship when they are so far away.
Plus, if you have your ex not too far away and can develop a better relationship over time, you will find that it can be useful to have someone else to help when childcare emergencies happen.
9. Be careful what you hide from your adult children – they usually find out the truth
Marie divorced her alcoholic husband but didn’t want her adult children to find out about it. Her rationale was that it was up to him to tell them. In the meantime she wanted to shield them from the sad truth.
Eventually they found out for themselves, but rather than support her, they were angry with her for lying to them. It was a blow to them about their father and they felt that their mother should have been upfront with them so that they could have all supported each other.
Whether or not you side with Marie or her kids, be careful what you chose to reveal or not reveal to your children. This is especially true if it is something that several other people know about. These things have ways of coming out into the open.
10. Children want to love both their parents. Let them.
That’s it. If there’s one rule to rule them all – it’s this one.
Lucy Davis is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and a TV Producer. She divorced 7 years ago. She is a passionate advocate for exploring the potential for change and creativity that can result from the trauma of divorce.