You might have a number of flippant answers to the question, “What lessons has divorce allowed you to teach your kids?” “Men/women are creeps,” “Don’t get married,” or “Hire the most expensive attorney” might be off-the-cuff things that come to you if you’re trying to be funny, but the fact is divorce has probably provided a lot of teachable moments you can share with your kids.
- You can love someone without being in love with them. If you have a reasonable relationship with your ex, this is an important message to share with your kids, who might find it confusing that you are able to be friendly together. It’s also an important distinction for kids to learn to make as they date and form relationships as adults.
- Never give up on happiness. Many people find it is easy to sort of float along in an unhappy marriage until an event forces them to take action and then they realize they should have made a change a long time ago. It’s really important for your kids to know that they should create a life that brings them happiness and any situation they find themselves in that impairs happiness is something to consider changing. Don’t settle for less than you deserve is another way to put this.
- The worst times always pass. This is a hard lesson for kids to learn because when they’re in the middle of something they see as just awful (a fight with a best friend, being grounded, or losing the championship) they often aren’t able to look past their momentary situation. Remind your kids that things always do get better and tomorrow is another day. Setbacks are never permanent.
- You can survive almost anything that comes your way. Your divorce likely taught you resilience. It’s definitely an attribute that we gain as we age and work our way through life’s ups and downs, making it something tough for a kid to come by. However, simply telling your child that he really can get through even the hardest things will show him you have confidence in his inner strength and someday he’ll come to believe it too.
- Life is all about change. Again, that’s hard to understand if you’re eight, or even sixteen, but helping your child see life as a series of changes and new experiences can help her be more open to the twists and turns she will face. It’s important to emphasize that each change you’ve faced has had up and down sides, but that you’ve tried to focus on the good aspects whenever possible.
- Love is worth trying for. Some teens who have divorced parents act very jaded about relationships and profess that they don’t believe in love or marriage and there’s no point in trying. Even though your marriage ended, it’s important to tell your child you still believe in love and want him or her to find it someday.
- Respect is the most important thing when dealing with other people. Even if you and your ex don’t always get along, if you’ve tried to be civil to each other, you’re showing your child that we owe respect to all the people we deal with, no matter what our disagreements or differences are.
What has divorce taught your kids?
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling), and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.