The decision to divorce is an overwhelmingly emotional time for everyone involved. It can be easy to lose sight of what’s important and focus too much on the legal side. You might even wonder how everyone will survive and come out the other side okay. My advice is to focus on family.
Studies show kids are happier and healthier living with their married biological parents, but that doesn’t mean their emotional health can’t still be great with a “broken family” and divorced parents. Because, in our opinion, there is no such thing as a broken family. Your family may look different than before, but you are still a family. And you can still function as a family unit even if you are no longer living together because family is family. It is not determined by divorce papers, adoption documents, or even a marriage certificate.1
How Our ‘Broken Family’ Persevered
If I have learned anything from divorce, it’s that family is who you choose. You can still choose to love your ex even if your relationship doesn’t work out. You can choose to keep the broken family together. Above all else, you can choose love.
First, your kids are going to be hit hard. It’s sad but expected, but I promise you one thing — they will be okay. It may take weeks or months for them to accept it, but as long as they know they are loved, they will heal. It’s incredibly difficult and heartbreaking, but it is not the end.
Finding ways to effectively co-parent with a former spouse is an excellent first step. Having both of your kids’ parents active in their daily lives positively impacts their physical and emotional well-being. Putting your children above whatever caused the marriage to end will make them happier and better handle the situation. You do not need a marriage license to show up for your kids.
Divorce should be treated as a loss. All parties, including the children, should be given time to grieve the end of the relationship. Placing blame on one side is unhealthy and causes resentment. To move on as a broken family (you always will be bound together by your children) means seeing things from each other’s point of view and finding ways to move past the divorce.
Blended Families Are Families
Sometimes, divorce leads to new relationships, marriages, and more children. A study published in 2019 reported that 60% of children in the U.S. live with their married biological parents. These newly blended families are family, too. You can choose to be a part of each other’s lives. You can choose to treat your ex’s new partner as family. Leading with love and understanding is essential. You are teaching them what love looks like. If you are filled with anger and resentment, they will feel that.2
Tips to Effectively Co-Parent in a ‘Broken Family’
Here are some tips on how to handle life with children after separation.
- Keep the family residence where one of you stays or settle in two new homes in the same school district.
- Start and stick to new routines so your children know what to expect.
- Keep constant communication about the kids about events, sports, grades, and anything else necessary.
- See a therapist or a psychologist as a family, and individually so you and your little ones have emotional outlets.
- Make the transition as stress-free as possible for the kids. Do not speak badly of your former partner to them or in front of them.
- Keep enough personal items for your children at each home in case they don’t remember to bring everything with them whenever it’s time to switch.
- Let your child know where they will be sleeping and when and how often they will see each of you. They will have an easier time if they know what to expect.
- Give yourself grace and cut the kids some slack. Like you, they will be sad, scared, and uncertain of the future.
- Take your child’s feelings into account. Talk to them and listen as often as possible.
- Be flexible if your child’s needs change.
- Give them their space in each house so they feel at home.
- Do not take things personally. There will be days when your child will not want to stay with you or your partner, and that’s normal.
- Encourage them to stay in touch with their other parent while in your care. Texts or calls to check in will show them that you are still a team, even if you are no longer together.
You Don’t Have to Be a ‘Broken Family’
What I have learned from divorce and as a child of divorce is there will be easy days and hard days. Working together for the sake of your babies should always be the top priority. Your family doesn’t have to be a “broken family.” Put in the effort and love it takes to be a family regardless of a marriage certificate or divorce papers. Always remember that you can choose your family. One day, your kids will grow older and understand. Then, you can be at peace knowing you showed them that family is family, no matter the situation.