How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles can make a huge difference, often for the worse. I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple.
Part 4 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ The Divorced Couple has Kids
1. Never badmouth either parent in front of the children. Children know (even if adopted) they’re a combination of both parents. It’s never OK to say anything negative about either parent. If a child tells you they are “mad at dad” by all means acknowledge “Boy, right now you’re so mad at dad you could scream!” But avoid character assignation. If you hear “mum’s a looser – if she’d just stop drinking dad wouldn’t have left,” challenge this gently. “Your mum’s behaved badly, but she’s not a bad person.” Good people can make bad choices. This is key or the child might grow up thinking they too have some ingrained character flaw “just like mum or dad.”
2. Cut the kids some slack. When your parents split, your home’s sold, you divide your time and stuff between mum’s house & dad’s house, your friends are gossiping, family finances suffer, you have to meet a parent’s new partner, and-life-as-you-once-knew-it is forever changed, it can be hard to find comfort. Counselling might be good. But anyone can help by taking the child out, listening, empathizing and offering simple kindness. A regular zoo date; movie night and sleep over at your house; an introduction to something new – a sport or art or book – shows you care.
3. Include them in your family traditions. “It takes a village” yea, yea, but it really helps! If your divorced friends are not up for the Easter egg hunt, pumpkin carving, tree cutting, carol singing, Thanksgiving feast, bake sale, Waitangi Day races, cabin-on-the-lake trip for a while, include your friends’ kids with your own. As the child of an unhappy marriage, I longed for these immersions into happy family gatherings and model my own parenting on the many aunts and friends who included me along the way.
4. Be an advocate for the children. In a recent study of young adults from divorced families, many of those surveyed identified loss of control over their lives as very upsetting. Few kids said their parents had talked with them about the divorce and only 5% had the chance to ask questions. Help your friends put their love of the children ahead of their hate for the “ex”. Just because the parenting plan says Mum’s house on Thursdays, but there’s a Father’s Day tea – what does the child need and want today? Might it be OK to listen more to the children?