Helping Your Children Cope with a Disappointing Ex-Spouse

Joint custody following a divorce often results in painful frustration in both you and your child when the other spouse fails to follow through on plans. Young children immediately force their disappointments inward, blaming themselves for your ex-spouse’s unreliability. Though you cannot force accountability in your ex, there are steps you can make to help prevent unhealthy emotional damage in your children as they react to these upsetting scenes. Below are several aways in which you can help them cope:

Reaffirm your love for your children: Children will often misconstrue their parent’s lack of dependability for a lack of desire to see them. It’s important to take reasonable measures in ensuring that they know they are loved. This can be accomplished in a quick conversation, relaying to your children that because their parent made a mistake does not mean that he or she does not love your child.

Avoid covering up for your ex-spouse: Although it may be an immediate reaction to want to provide an excuse for your ex-spouse in order to protect the feelings of your child, this actually hurts them. Your child needs to be able to express his or her disappointment. This should neither be exacerbated by badmouthing your ex nor hindered by the invention of excuses, but simply allowed.

Make a back-up plan: If this is at all possible, it will do wonders for alleviating the disappointment in your child. If your ex-spouse does not show up within a set window of time, take your child to spend quality time with you instead, instilling in them that they are loved and not alone.

Insist that your child expresses him or herself: It won’t work if it is forced, but not all children are expressive in these moments, choosing instead to bottle it up inside. This is often because they think it will add to the discomfort you are feeling as well. Let your children know that it is healthy to talk about how those situations make them feel, and that there are no wrong answers.

Try to be flexible with scheduling visits: If you notice a patter in your ex-spouse’s consistent cancellations on a particular day or at a particular time, be the one to suggest a different schedule. If this is possible, the compromise may be all that was needed in order for your arrangement to work.

Ask for help from loved ones: If you and your child can no longer depend on your ex-spouse, consider asking the help of a trusted friend or relative. You and your child can both benefit from this added stability.

Avoid letting your child witness your arguments: Understanding that you and your ex-spouse will not always exactly get along, it is important that you don’t let your children see it. Exposure contributes to the more maladjusted cases in children with divorced parents.

Consider picking up your child from a more peaceful location: When it comes time to pick up or drop off your child, the discomfort among ex-spouses sometimes makes the other spouse feel that seeing his or her child is not worth it the confrontation. One alternative solution may be to arrange the pickups at a fun place for your child. This will promote a less tense situation for you and your child.

Send your child off with a positive expression: You want to give your child the impression that you are happy he or she is spending time with your ex-spouse. This will help your child internalize that although you are not all living together anymore, you are still a loving family.

Receive your child with a positive expression: On the other side of the coin, create a positive environment when your child is being dropped off to stay with you. You want your child to feel excited to see you, and never that their presence is causing some kind of emotional distress in you or your ex-spouse.

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