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The Pain of Post-Divorce Parenting

Easing the Pain

Stop the conflict

It's not divorce that hurts the children as much as the ongoing conflict, says Primavera. "The conflict needs to end with the divorce," she says. If there is a chance you and your spouse will argue when you talk, make sure it happens out of the kids' earshot. If fights often occur when making a visitation handover, arrange for just one parent to pick up the kids at a neutral place like at school or at daycare instead.

Build a business relationship

"You don't have to like your ex-spouse, but you do have to find a way to work with them when it comes to the children," says Swinney. She suggests trying to view the relationship on a business level rather than as a love or hate relationship, with the business being to raise secure, emotionally stable, and happy children.

Don't badmouth

This is one of the most common slips parents and extended family make, says Swinney. But when you say, "Your dad is a loser," the message your kids may get is, "that makes you half loser, too." It's emotionally important for children to believe their parents are both good people, even if they aren't perfect. They'll see the flaws for themselves when they are mature enough to handle that information.

Don't interrogate

Another common mistake parents make is trying to find out about the other parent through the child. When you ask, "How was the weekend at mom's/dad's?" make sure your motivation is to hear about the child's visit, not to find out about your ex's love life. "Children are very perceptive and they know the difference," says Swinney. The unintended message the child gets is, "I don't care about what is happening in your life as much as I care about what your mother/father is doing."

Avoid confessions

Talking to your kids about some details of the divorce is necessary, but avoid leaning on them for emotional support - even if they don't seem to mind. "Kids just don't know what to do with that information," says Harwood. Instead, focus on being there to listen to their feelings, but find another adult to talk to about your own.

Ask, don't tell

"Your child is your best resource," says Jennifer Lewis, MD, co-author of the book Don't Divorce Your Children. Instead of telling children they are not responsible for divorce, ask them if they feel responsible, and then listen to what they say, she tells WebMD. The same goes for requesting their input on visitation schedules and other decisions. Just because you ask doesn't mean you have to agree to every request, but at least the children feel included, and you know what's important to them.

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