Seven Worst Things To Say During A Divorce
When you said the words, “I do,” on your wedding day, the idea of divorce probably never entered your mind. Nor was it even a fleeting thought when you witnessed the birth of your first child. Chances are it never occurred to you at those times that one day you would be a statistic in the over fifty percent of marriages that end in divorce.
And yet here you are, considering divorce, separated, or already divorced. You find yourself dealing with issues of dating, visitation schedules, and feelings of animosity toward your spouse. You know that divorce is not the best situation for your children, but things have progressed too far to turn back.
What do you do at this point to protect your children? How do you help them minimize the negative effects of divorce? What do you say to them and how do you say it? How you handle yourself through the divorce process and the months that follow can be a determining factor in how well your children handle the struggles that divorce can bring.
Listed below are the seven worst things you can say to your children during a divorce. Avoid them and you’ll be on your way to helping your children make the transition in a positive manner.
1. “If you behaved yourself more, your mother wouldn’t get so mad at me.”
Your children are NOT responsible for your relationship problems with your partner. Hinting that they are in some way responsible for your divorce wounds their spirit and slashes their soul. Regardless of what they have done or said, putting responsibility on them is totally inappropriate.
Remember, a divorce takes place between the two married people in the relationship. Although divorce affects the children, you are not divorcing them. You are divorcing the person to whom you are married.
Even when you assure children they are not responsible for the marriage breakup, most children believe they are somehow responsible. They think to themselves, “If I’d only been better,” or “If I had just done something different, things would be okay with Mom and Dad.”
If you really believe that your children are responsible for your divorce, then something is in need of repair in your parent-child relationship. Turn to a counselor, member of the clergy, or school personnel. Do it now. You and your children are worth it.
2. “Your mother is a tramp.”
Name-calling in front of your children is inexcusable. Regardless of what your former wife has done and how you feel about her, remember she is still your children’s mother. If she has had an affair or done other mean things to you, it is not your place to tell the children about her behavior. Saying hurtful things to them about their mother does not hit the intended target, your “ex.” It hits and hurts the ones you still love, your children.
Name-calling usually stems from feelings of anger and disgust. Stay in control of your feelings. Attempting to knock your “ex” down verbally doesn’t bring you up in the eyes of your children. When they hear you using these words about their mother they sense the discrepancy in what you’re saying and how they’re feeling. They begin to distrust your words and fear that you may also be saying such things about them and their behavior. When you name-call, you damage the relationship you have with your children.
Kids need to look up to their parents. You and, yes, their mother are the two most important people in their lives. Since birth, they have looked to both parents for comfort, support, encouragement, and direction. They will continue to do so even after the divorce. Speaking about their mother with words intended to wound decreases the likelihood that they will look up to you in the future.
3. “What does your mother say about me?”
Do not expect your children to be informants whose job it is to keep you updated on the events and happenings around Mom’s house. They are not conduits to be pumped for information. Keep them out of the middle and off the witness stand.
By asking your children to report to you and keep you informed, you’re asking them to betray someone they love. They are caught in the difficult position of having to supply you with information or lie in an attempt to protect their mother. When you do this, your children have to decide what might be appropriate information to tell and what information Mom might not want you to know. This is not a decision that a child needs to be making.
If there is information that you feel you really need or want to know, go to the source. Be an adult and ask your “ex” the questions you want answered. She has the right to decide what to tell you. If she is not forthcoming with the answers, sit tight. It’s quite possible that the answers will come to you without ever having to ask your children.
The main focus of your communication with your “ex” should be your children’s development and continued care. Questions that don’t pertain to the kids may not be any of your business. Ask yourself if getting answers to your questions benefits your children or yourself. Be honest. If it only benefits you, let it go. Your children’s welfare is what’s most important.
4. “I want to get back together, but your mother doesn’t.”
This statement may be true, but telling it to your children is nothing more than a play for sympathy. It is a subtle attempt to fix blame and make the other parent look bad. You’re trying to place yourself in a positive light as the one who wants to keep the family together.
If this statement is really true, explore your role in how the relationship with your partner has gotten to the point where it is now. Tell your partner that you want to get back together and work on correcting the mistakes you made in the relationship. Your children have no place in that process.
If you want to look good and win your children’s affection, do so with grace. Approach your partner with a loving heart. Model for your children how to separate and move on in a relationship without wounding the spirit of another. Show them how to have an open heart even when you don’t want what another person wants. Divorce gracefully. It’s the best kind of divorce your children can go through.
5. “No, I won’t give you any money. I send your mother child support. If you need money, ask her.”
When you were married, did you sit down each week and show your check stub to your children? Did you share each aspect of the family budget with them, expecting them to understand the intricate nature of this system you designed? Probably not. They knew it existed and they became familiar with parts of it at times, but it was never a major concern for them. It was an adult matter that adults took care of.
The same holds true for child support. Your children don’t need to know how much child support you pay and when you pay it. A child’s request for money is not a request to be told about the family budget or about how much you pay for child support. Neither is it a request to hear about your financial troubles. If the money isn’t available—and there are times even in intact families when this is true—tell them that’s the case without mentioning why. Talk with your children about what they want to do with the money. Help them create a plan for getting the money they need.
The purpose of child support is to make available a percentage of the finances needed for everyday living. Your children need far more than what child support provides. They need extra love, extra attention, and, yes, extra money on occasion.
Don’t get caught up in the financial details of your relationship with your children. Don’t try to buy their love with money. Instead, show your love with time and attention.
6. “I’m sorry I didn’t get you last week. I was really busy.”
When it’s your evening or weekend to be with your kids, adjust your schedule so that you can give them your full attention. This means skipping the golf outing, rescheduling poker night, missing softball practice, and changing your hours at work. Create the time to be present in your children’s life. When it’s your weekend and you don’t spend it with your kids, they feel rejected. The message is that something has become very important to you and it’s not them. Is that the message you want to send to your children? If not, then make your time with them a priority. Demonstrate their importance by letting them see that their time with you is the last thing to get cancelled.
If you’re scheduled to have parenting time with your children and you don’t show, or you call at the last minute with a change of plans, your kids feel abandoned. If you take them to their grandparents’ house for the day while you go to a golf outing, the kids question their importance to you. If you say to your daughter, “We can do that the next time we’re together,” and when next week arrives you don’t do it, your integrity comes into question.
When you have scheduled parenting time, keep it. When you say you’re going to do something together next time, do it. Your children remember, and they’re building an image of their father based on your actions. What image do you want them to hold?
7. “I don’t care what your mother said. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.”
No two homes are run the same. With the establishment of two separate homes comes the establishment of two sets of rules. The goal is to create as much consistency as possible between your house and your ex-wife’s house.
Arriving at mutual agreement on issues around bedtime, homework structure, video game use and television viewing and on basic rules of respect for others’ boundaries is important. While consistency is valuable, the reality is that it’s difficult for many divorced couples to achieve. It takes setting aside your anger, resentment, and feelings of revenge and coming to agreement about important issues that affect your children. It takes two people behaving like adults focusing on what is best for their children.
Saying to your children, “I don’t care what your mother said. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to,” begins to create an imbalance in the structure that children need, especially in times of divorce. The implication is that they don’t have to listen to their mother, that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and that it’s okay if they defy her authority. It’s a ploy to wield power over your ex-wife by weakening her power with her children. You’re attempting to undermine her authority and are using the children to get back at her. This is not your children’s job. Putting them in this position gives them a sense of power that’s focused in the wrong direction. Children’s power needs to stay focused on managing their own behavior as they learn to make safe, caring, confident choices.
If you really don’t think the children should have to do something their mother told them to do, take it up with her. Find out what was behind her request or disciplinary strategy. If it’s not a strategy you use in your home, talk to the children about how you handle similar situations at your house. Explain the differences in the approach each of you has taken, helping your children see the outcome of their choices and the effect it has on them regardless of the house in which they reside.
Divorce does not have to be a devastating end to your family. It marks the beginning of a new family for you and your children. Focus on creating a new life together. Hold on to some of the traditions of the past and look for opportunities to create new traditions, new routines, and a new-found joy in being together. Show your children how to divorce gracefully by eliminating the seven worst things you can say to them during a divorce.