If you are a parent and divorced, you may find yourself dealing with divorce guilt. It’s part of the post- divorce package. Your children have transitioned from one family into two; the family dynamics has been altered dramatically because you and your ex couldn’t stay married. It was best for the two of you, all options had been exhausted and you made your decision. Staying together was not in your best interest, nor was it in the best interest of your children.
Still, you feel guilt — tremendous, paralyzing guilt. When you see the sadness and hurt your children are going through, it’s unbearable. You have taken all the proper steps to help them through the transition. You’ve made certain they know this is not their fault. You have worked hard to maintain a good parenting relationship with your ex and you never disparage the other parent in their presence. You both love them equally and you have each provided a secure home environment so they feel safe.
It’s all too easy to fall prey to divorce guilt and start over-compensating for the pain you see them going through. Try to keep daily routines the same — kids need structure in their lives, more so now than any other time. Disruption, other than what is necessary for transitioning into two separate families, can be confusing. If you find yourself doing something you wouldn’t have done before, rethink it. Keep things as normal as possible — normal is good.
Buying presents for your children to make them happy is not the answer. Your time and attention are what matters. Let them know you are there and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that have the biggest payoff. And don’t let the kids hold you hostage over your guilt — you are the parent, not the other way around.
If they attempt to conquer and divide you and your ex, good communication between the two of you may nip that in the bud. Rules established before the divorce should hold after it. Be consistent with discipline, and make certain the reward for good behavior is the correct one and not a guilt-driven substitute. You, as co-parents, should have made clear and definite decisions in your parenting plan in regards to the “dos and don’ts” in both households. Stay firm. Giving in now may mean more problems later.
It’s natural to go off track on occasion. How you get back on track will be easier if the two of you come up with a plan together. Don’t undermine or override each other’s authority. It will confuse and disrupt your kids’ worlds. Never ask them to choose one parent over the other, even if it’s for a simple validation of what you feel is right. Adult issues should be kept between the adults.
Guilt may be a side-effect of divorce, but you shouldn’t allow it to control you. Use it to make yourself a better parent … a well-informed parent who wants to keep their children happy in a healthful, positive way.