Being scared of divorce with kids can be absolutely paralyzing.
When you’re sitting in a marriage that you can’t stand to be in because your needs aren’t being met, you lost trust, you lost that connection, or you simply just don’t love them anymore can be mentally and physically draining.
Or, when you’re sitting in a marriage with someone that no longer wants to be with you, constantly criticizes you and tries to change who you are can leave you feeling perpetually insecure.
Every day you begin to lose pieces of yourself and you start going through the motions. You may be pretending to be someone you’re not or you’re walking on eggshells to keep from having another fight.
Was that your marriage?
I was the one in my marriage that wanted the divorce.
For 2 years leading up to it, I made up every reason not to. I called my family and friends to talk me out of it. Maybe it was just a phase, I thought. Maybe I just needed to get MY life back on track to feel good about things again.
So, I began to surround myself with things that made me happy. I started to work out again, bought new clothes, a new beautiful white Jeep Wrangler, took up photography and went out more. But for some reason, I still wasn’t happy.
I noticed that doing the things I loved, made my husband and I drift further and further apart. He had no interest in the things that I liked. It almost seemed that the more I tried to “fix” things, the more distant we got.
So, one day…I got the nerve to tell him I wanted a divorce. I was absolutely TERRIFIED. Mostly because I was so scared of the life I was setting up for my little 2-year-old son. A split life, a broken life.
I couldn’t even fathom the thought of handing my son to my husband through an unfamiliar doorway. KNOCKING on a door to pick MY son up from his dad days later. I couldn’t grasp the thought of my son having two houses, two rooms, two beds. How heartbreaking!
Now, I’m going to walk you through how I changed my perspective of my fears of divorce and co-parenting, how I addressed them head-on and CRUSHED them! And I know you can too! Because you actually have a lot more control of the way things turn out than you think. Here we go!
When we are faced with fear, our first instinct is to freeze, fight or flight; which are you doing?
Most of us typically freeze when we’re faced with a huge, terrifying life change like divorce. We will sit still and allow the worst-case scenarios of the future prevent us from moving forward. We can also live in denial thinking things may change, or we’re too scared to stick our neck out there and make the change ourselves.
If you’re reading this, you are probably frozen. And your soon to be ex is likely a fighter, or a flighter.
A fighter is the type that tries to argue every little thing and redirect all problems and blame onto you.
A flighter is the type that dodges or downplays confrontation and runs away from problems. They may avoid or postpone discussing the divorce or co-parent issues.
Now, why is important to understand reactions to fear? Because when the other parent acts out in one of these ways…you know it’s stemming from the same place, fear.
They are scared, just like you. They just show it in a different way. Understanding their reaction to fear will help you identify what’s really going on in their head and will give you a starting point on how to communicate with them.
Now, what are your biggest fears?
Think about it for a second…When it comes to divorce and the kid(s), what are your fears? Start out with “I’m scared that…”
Here’s a couple examples to get you started:
*I’m scared that I won’t be able to support myself and the kids.
*I’m scared that my kids will hate me.
Take a second to jot them down. I’m not joking! Minimize this article and write/type them out! There’s a method to my madness, I’ll show ya in a bit.
Okay, you have them written?
The key to facing fears is breaking them up into small chunks, asking yourself how that fear will come true, then you come up with logical solutions. Here’s an example from start to finish of what I’m talking about…
My biggest fear of divorce was I was scared that the divorce will damage my son.
That was my worst-case scenario. Then I thought to myself, what do I think will cause him to be damaged?
- Witnessing arguments
- Not seeing one parent for long periods of time
- Confusion or guilt regarding the divorce
- Witnessing his parents bad-mouthing each other
Next, break down the fears even further…
How am I going to prevent my son from witnessing arguments?
- I will interact only through email or at a designated meeting place without our son present if we are in a high conflict scenario.
- I will put it in my parenting plan that we will never discuss issues during the exchange of our son.
- During conversation, I will always redirect or walk away from conflict when I sense escalation.
- If things ever get too bad to where we cannot interact face to face, I will have a family member or friend pick our son up from his house.
Not seeing one parent for long periods of time.
How am I going to prevent my son from not seeing the other parent for long periods of time?
- I will set up an equal shared parenting plan where my child won’t go longer than 5 days without seeing the other parent. (2-2-3, 3-3-4-4, 2-2-5-5, alternating weeks w/ midweek visit or overnight stay) Here are some schedule ideas
- If the other parent moves, I will move closer to them to keep the family intact.
- I will put in the parenting plan that the other parent can call/video chat every day without the other parent interfering.
- I will put in my parenting plan to allow the other parent to make up lost time if they go on a work trip, there’s severe weather, or they are ill.
Confusion or guilt regarding the divorce.
How am I going to prevent my son from feeling confused or guilty?
- Both parents will sit down with him and explain (in respect to his age) why the divorce is happening/happened.
- I will place my son in therapy if he is not expressing his emotions freely to either parent. This way, he will have a neutral outlet without fear of punishment.
- I will fully explain that the divorce is not his fault. Sometimes parents are just better off as friends.
- I will allow him to express his emotions towards the divorce, even if he is cruel because it’s important for him to express himself and what he’s feeling. This way I can clarify any confusion he may be feeling and ensure he feels heard and loved.
Witnessing parents bad-mouthing each other.
How will I keep my son from witnessing this?
- I will never speak poorly about the other parent in front of my son, despite how angry I am with them.
- I will put it in the parenting plan that each parent must respect different parenting styles and never speak negatively about the other parent in the child’s presence.
- I will put in the parenting plan that If we run into an issue that cannot be resolved, we will seek mediation with a third party.
So, you see, these are legitimate fears, yet they are totally actionable to combat against. Like I said, you are in control! Things don’t have to end in the worst-case scenario if you have a plan to counteract it.
If you make a mistake (and you will) it’s okay. Just recognize it, learn from it, don’t let it happen again and move forward. Make sure you aren’t too prideful to apologize when you do make a mistake. If it’s really hard for you, don’t think of it as apologizing for the sake of your ex, think of it as apologizing for the sake of your kids. They are the ones who’s future and innocence you’re trying to protect.
It has been 16 months since my son’s dad and I started co-parenting. My son is now 4. Since then, we have had one argument in front of my son that ended as quickly as it started because we both abruptly ended the escalation, before my son even realized what was going on.
The reason we have been able to have such a great relationship, is because we see each other as parents, not exes.
We keep the lines of communication open and keep the focus on our son. I don’t get into his business and he doesn’t get into mine. We compromise and apologize, which shows respect for each other.
It takes time to rebuild the relationship from being spiteful ex-lovers to successful co-parents, so give it time and patience.
Being divorced and co-parenting doesn’t have to be some huge mess. All it takes is the mutual love of your child and the rest will fall into place.
Now, remember those fears you wrote down? Now’s the time to come up with YOUR plans of action. It’s okay to be scared! That just means that you care very, very deeply about your child. Use that fear to drive your plans of action. Make sure that those worst-case scenarios never occur! You have the power to take control of the divorce and co-parenting.
You have the strength to kick fear’s ass!