Being a good role model for your kids will help them get over your divorce. I've been a divorce lawyer for more than 20 years, and I've had a lot of clients who have kids. And that's a golden rule.
When people separate, their kids are going to get over it. Whether they’re younger or older, if they are given an opportunity to get past the fact that their parents are separated, they’re going to be able to do that. There’s nothing unusual about it, and it’s not uncommon. The problem kids face, though, and when they don’t get over the separation, is when mom and dad continue to fight, or when they continue to put their kids in the middle of conflict. There has been a lot of research into this topic, and a lot of articles have been published. I've linked a couple of the better ones here and here.
In my more than 20 years as a divorce lawyer, though, I’ve never once had a parent come in to me and said “You know what? I don't want to be a good role model for my kids. I want to put them in the middle of conflict. I want to make sure that my separation hurts them, and I want to make sure that they have addiction problems and quit school and are not be able to have functional relationships for themselves.” I have never had a client do that. And I don’t think anyone would. At the same time, what people often assume is that post-separation there is a line in the sand. Often they believe that they’re on opposite teams of their ex-spouse and extended family. It doesn’t have to be that way.
In our culture, and in my experience as a divorce lawyer, we don’t necessarily have a lot of role models that demonstrate good behaviour post-separation. But! There are some cases out there where the mom & dad have kept their kids out of conflict. My sister’s family is a wonderful example of how be a great role model for your kids post-separation.
My sister separated from her previous long-term partner more than 25 years ago, and she has had a new partner for two decades now. Even though she doesn’t see her ex very much anymore, she has maintained a relationship with his kids. The really great thing is that his kids don’t have to feel guilt about maintaining a relationship with her. And that's because my sister and her former partner don’t have any animosity toward one another.
I have another example that I love to share because it’s so heartwarming. This is the story of a family - mom & dad (let’s call them Stephanie and Larry), two teenage kids, and a family dog. After 20 years of marriage, Larry and Stephanie couldn’t agree on how to raise the kids, and it just wasn’t working out. Larry decided to move on. At first the kids were mad and Stephanie was very upset. In the separation agreement it was decided that Larry would pay spousal support to Stephanie, and he would get to keep the family dog. Both sides were unhappy with the agreement, but with time, Stephanie moved on, and Larry fell in love again and got remarried. One day, Stephanie ran into Larry and his new wife at the grocery store. She looked at Larry’s new wife and said:
“Congratulations, I’m happy for you.”
That must have been hard for her, but she opened her heart enough to give them the blessing of their marriage. Six months after that encounter the family dog passed away. This dog was so loved by the whole family that it was given a celebration of life ceremony. Stephanie was invited, and this was to be the first time that the extended family - Stephanie, Larry, their two kids, and Larry’s new wife - would be together at the same time. After the ceremony, Stephanie received this message from Larry:
“I’m glad you were there today. It was important that you were, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. As we were leaving you said to me ‘Thanks for including me.’ Not including you wasn’t even an option.”
What’s really great about this family is that even though it looks very different than it used to, they’re still acknowledging their connection to one another and demonstrating for themselves, their kids, and their community, that they can move on and be respectful to one another.
If this blog resonates with you, and if you feel like you need support, I recommend getting a counselor. It's something I recommend to all of my divorce clients because it's a tough journey and it's way too hard to go it alone.
When I was researching for this blog I also found an article called 7 Ways To Make Divorce Easier On Your Kids that contains some great advice.
If you haven’t already done so, please sign up our monthly newsletter.
Written by Val Hemminger, Divorce Lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore