How (and why) to stop divorce from ruining your kids’ happy memories
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Too often divorced parents steal memories away from their kids. If you want your children to have a healthy image of their childhood, then don’t destroy it. The divorce is hard enough, so don’t make it worse. Try these five suggestions to help soften the blow for your children.
1. Keep the pictures of you and your family that include your former spouse.
It’s surprising how many divorced parents throw away any pictures that include their ex. That’s cruel to your children. They need to know that they once shared happy times when their parents were married. This is part of their heritage. You don’t need to post these pictures around the house, especially if you’ve remarried, but you do need to save them and show them to your children at times when you’re talking about their childhood. They may want one on display in their bedroom. Let it happen. Don’t let your feelings put a damper on theirs. Enjoying these family photos will create happy memories for them. It will help them get through the troubled times.
2. Don’t avoid going places you went as a family before your divorce.
Occasionally revisiting vacation places and talking about the good times you had as a family can be healing to a child. If you used to have ice cream together as a family at a certain place, keep on going there and let the kids remember the fun they used to have, and to create new memories with you now. After all, it isn’t the ice cream that changed; it’s the relationship you had with their other parent. Keep as much sameness in their lives as you can. Let them still enjoy the places they used to enjoy before your divorce. You can also find new places as a family with a stepparent. Both need to have a place in your kids’ hearts.
3. Talk with your kids about the happy times before the divorce.
This won’t mean you’re any less in love with your current spouse. Hopefully this spouse is mature enough to want your children to have good memories of their past. If she or he has children by their former spouse, be sure to do the same for them.
4. Don’t tell your kids you never loved their other parent.
This is almost always a lie. Of course you loved your former spouse. Why else would you have married him or her? To say this love never existed is a betrayal of your past. Maybe that love was lost later, but why not let the kids see that they were conceived and nurtured in love? Give them that solid foundation. Let them see your wedding picture. It will give them a sense of security knowing that at one point in their lives their parents loved each other. Even though the marriage ended, it helps kids to know that there was a happy time for you and them. Hopefully, you have kept a cordial relationship with your ex, for your children’s sakes.
5. Say only good about your ex, or say nothing.
Young children don’t need to hear how bad their parent is. When it comes to the divorce, they don’t need to know the sordid details. It’s too devastating for them when it’s accompanied with a barrage of insults about Dad or Mom. Answer their questions simply and respectfully. When a divorced parent continually criticizes his or her former spouse in the presence of their children, it only harms the children. This will never bring your children closer to you. It will push them further away. Commenting on the good qualities of their other parent keeps the kids grounded. It keeps the good memories alive. Believe it or not, it will bring them closer to you. They will respect you for doing it.
As they mature they may come to know more about what caused the divorce. If they come to you asking for details, answer without going into upsetting aspects of what happened. Remember, they will likely be asking your former spouse about this, too, and will compare stories. Be honest, but gentle, without laying out more than needs to be talked about. Kids want to know the good about their parents. After all, they think they will inherit these traits, so keep them positive. Let them see a forgiveness on your part. That, too, will teach them volumes about how to live their own lives.
Parenting never ends, even if a marriage does. Help your children through the difficult times by following these five suggestions. You’ll be glad you did. And they will love you all the more for it. Along with this, give them a good example of marriage by making your current marriage happy and lasting. They are desperate to see that marriage can work.
Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships. See their new .99 e-book “Wake-Up Call: What Every Husband Needs to Know” on amazon.com. Their website is garyjoylundberg.com.