One of the most difficult, heart wrenching aspects of parents divorcing is the fact that in most cases, each of you will have nights when you don’t put your kids to bed and mornings when you wake up without them. None of us anticipates this in those early bonding months when most people fall in love with their babies and can’t imagine being deprived of their presence. But when marriages fail, this is the reality. How best to cope…
I am writing this from the perspective of a long-time psychotherapist who has worked with many such families and my own experience of a divorce when my son was 4 and remarriage to a man who was deprived of ongoing contact with his young daughters—I have “been there”. While my first suggestion may sound counter intuitive regarding the best interests of the child, believe me it is not and is terribly important for both you and your children. I encourage you to develop or perhaps re-engage with non-parenting activities that interest you, whether it is taking up an old hobby, reconnecting with friends, or learning a new skill; all of these activities will help you deal with not being with your children when it is “not your time”. They are excellent distractions for you and helpful to your child in knowing that mommy or daddy is “ok” when you are not with them and they do not have to worry about you (as children often do.) As you say good-bye reassure them that you will be doing something you enjoy and will be fine and even when you feel sad, in most cases the energy of the new activity will help you cope with this.
What about contact with your children when they are staying with the other parent? What are the best ways to handle this. Of course much depends on the needs of each child and their developmental level. But there are some general guidelines. With children under the age of 5 I recommend no contact if the visit is just a few days—phone calls are often confusing and almost always disruptive to their current activity. I know many parents want the opportunity to speak with their young children at least once a day, and if you are unwilling to forego this, try to make the timings of the call consistent preferably at the end of the day and very brief. You are doing this for your own needs, not the child’s, so try to take ownership of this. With children between 5 and 10 who are comfortable talking on the phone, again keep the chats brief and at a consistent time. Try to be upbeat and do not give them information about what is going on in their other home, unless they ask for it. Children older than 10 probably have their own phones and I would leave the calling up to them with-out making any demands related to your own needs. A postcard can be meaningful (a friend told me that his 4 yr old grandson carried around a card he sent him from a vacation until he saw him again.) If you keep in mind the needs of the child, rather than your own needs for contact (see suggestion 1) you will probably make the right choice.
What about greeting your child after s visit with the other parent. A hug and one or two brief questions should suffice. As difficult as this may be, do not make judgements about the experience and of course do not try to get information about your ex from the child. Encourage them to share any concerns they might have about the visit with that parent and try not to run interference (except for young children when this may be necessary). It is quite normal for kids to not want to share much about their visit so try not to push for this. Again keep in mind the needs of your child, rather than your curiosity (or contempt) about your ex.
We all want what is in our children’s best interest. Successfully negotiating visitation can be very difficult for the adults involved but the benefits to our children are immense if we can learn to do this well.