A Golden Rule for Divorced Parents

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” — James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes from a Native Son (1961)

We grown-ups are aware that from time to time, we imitate our parents — and not always voluntarily.

If we are also parents, we want our own children to imitate us … but only in good ways. We do our best, therefore, to model good behavior for them.

If we are divorced parents, we can do this by repeating to ourselves the following: The way I treat my former spouse is how I want my children to treat me.

That doesn’t mean that on your ex’s next birthday, you need to send flowers or a candygram. It doesn’t mean you need to erase your mind’s every negative thought about your ex because that’s what you want your kids to do with you.

Here’s what it does mean:

  • When you badmouth your ex, you teach your children, “It’s OK to call a parent names and to talk about them critically and negatively.”
  • When your children hear you assigning bad motives to your ex, you teach your children to be cynical and suspicious of a parent.
  • When you use Family Court not to resolve disagreements constructively but rather to bully, intimidate, and bankrupt your ex, you are teaching your children that lawsuits are how to resolve disagreements with a parent.
  • When you shut your ex out of your children’s lives — not because your ex poses any threat to your children’s safety, but because you wish to punish your ex — you are teaching your kids, “It’s perfectly OK to cut a parent out of your life.”

If you do any or all of the above, don’t be surprised one day at how critical, cold of heart, or distant your children have become toward you.

You are the one who taught them.

Children learn from both parents, which is why it’s important for both members of a divorced couple to be civil, respectful, fair, and cooperative.

This golden rule may be the one thing you and your ex can agree on.

It may not be easy. It may, in fact, be quite hard. But how you handle challenging situations is also something your children are to looking to you, to your example, to learn from.

If your children become adults who are compassionate and kind, cooperative and collaborative, patient and understanding, would you like them to say they learned all that from you — or from anyone but you?

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