I recently had the opportunity to drive home from a weekend away with my two children and spend five hours alone in the car with them. At ages 11 and 14, sometimes our time in the car where no one can walk away, ignore or otherwise avoid conversations, is a wonderful opportunity to really gain valuable insight as to how they are feeling.
I have found that each year as my children get older, they process my divorce with new eyes and a new perspective. New questions emerge and their emotions reflect whatever is going on at this time in their lives.
Their father is getting married this weekend and therefore it was a wonderful time to ask them how they are feeling and if there were any thoughts or feelings that they wanted to share with me.
It ended up that there were many thoughts that they had mostly about the changing roles of the people in their lives. The addition of a step mother and step brother, the finality of thinking that their mother and father would ever get back together, having a single mother and married father…the list could go on.
As I listened to them, I realized that I am lucky that my children have the opportunity to share their thoughts with me and that I am fortunate to be able to separate my emotions about their father from their emotions as children of divorce.
As you move forward through your divorce and the relationships relating to you, your ex-husbands and those in your children’s lives change, it is critical to give them the opportunity to share their emotions with you.
The following are tips for opening the communication between you and your children as part of a child centered process:
- Take advantage of alone time with your child(ren)
Our tendency as single mothers is to use our time at home for cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, running around, talking on the phone… Our children, however, need alone time with us where we can focus on them with our undivided attention. Whether it’s playing a game, taking a hike, cooking dinner…it is crucial to make time to spend with your children with no phones, ipods, computers or video games. They may complain, but they appreciate it and need to hear that we want time alone with them.
- Ask open ended questions
When you do have time alone with your children, a wonderful technique for encouraging them to share what they are feeling with you is to ask open ended questions. Examples of these are:
- How are you feeling about the custody arrangement? Does it work for you?
- How I make your school year easier and support you to achieving good grades?
- Is there anything I can do make our time together more fun?
- What are your thoughts about your schedule this year?
- Is there anything that you would like to share with me about your friends, girl/boyfriend, activities so that I can understand more about how you feel?
- I am here to help you be the happiest, healthiest and most successful person you can be…what do you need from me?
Now that you have asked the open ended questions…LISTEN. You will be surprised at how much your children will share when they are made the focus of the conversation and that they know that you are listening to them with no distractions.
Hear what they say because they will be honest with you about what they need to be successful. Often times what they share will be vastly different from what you expect. Often our instinct is to explain, defend or solve whatever it is that they are saying…this is a time to sit quietly and listen to what they are sharing with you.
- Avoid disparaging comments about your Ex
If you are able to master listening without reacting, your children will begin to share things with you about your ex, their life with your ex or information about your boyfriend/dating.
When this occurs, our instinct is to again defend or disparage our ex. DON’T DO IT! Your children will be looking for a response from you and if you are reactive, they will cease sharing valuable information with you. Share how YOU feel, what YOU believe and make sure that they know that they can continue to share all that they feel with you and that their emotions are safe with you.
- Be conscious of how they might be feeling
It is hard for children, young or old, to share openly and honestly with us about their feelings. Remember what it is like to be 10, 12 or 16…things that are silly and frivolous to us is vitally important to them.
Before you challenge, scold or react to your child…which will almost always embarrass them, take a moment to think about how they are feeling and what their life is like as a child of divorce.
- Create an ongoing communication process with them
The more time you spend with your children talking with them, asking open questions and really listening…the more they will come to you when they are at a crossroad and need guidance.
You will be forming a pattern of communication that will not only improve the relationship that you have with them, but will set the way that they communicate with you, friends, and relationships for the rest of their lives.
- Remember that they had nothing to do with the divorce
There will be things that your children share with you that make you furious, upset, frustrated and wanting to scream! Please, please remember that they had nothing to do with the divorce. They only know what they are told by you and your ex. They should NEVER be used as a means of communicating with your ex or as a pawn in your divorce!
The single most helpful question you can ask yourself is “how do I want the kids to think and feel about me as they get older”.
I hope these tools and tips will help you to create a child centered divorce. Remember, its never to late to make a change! Your divorce is a lifelong journey of self-discovery and possibility! You reserve the right to start anew each and every day!