Children of divorce will far too often get the mistaken impression that they are somehow responsible for mom and dad splitting up. Watch for various forms of upset in your kids. Maybe they are sullen and spend more time in their room or on the computer than before you split. Perhaps a once happy child becomes irritable and difficult. Maybe they look for any excuse to get out of the house or at least away from you.
Most things are to be avoided with children fresh in a separation, since they are going through a major adjustment. However, this is an exception: it is very important you sit them down long enough to say directly, I need for you to know, you are NOT responsible for your mother and me splitting up. That is our decision, and I know it is tough on everybody.
Be prepared with some kind of credible answer to a why they may well hit you with, according to their age and development. But if she, or you, ran off with somebody in the neighborhood, be careful how you present that. Get help on how to discuss that from friends, a good men’s separation and support group, a professional, from somebody, so your kids don’t catch you unprepared. Again, it needs to be credible, but without making mom the bad guy, which may not be easy.
Here is where it is tempting to make their mother wrong, but NEVER NEVER give in to that urge. She may be your ex wife, but she is their forever mother.
At a social event, I ended up sitting with a recently separated, and an obviously shattered guy, and his thirteen year old son. The kid mentioned several times about being quite sarcastic at school…actually in a bragging way. I could see this was a poor behavior choice for this otherwise good kid, but dad offered no advice or direction.
Here is the classic: I want my kid to choose me over his mother, so I better be his friend. Wrong, wrong to try to win some imaginary popularity contest. Dad’s fear of losing the kid too is a very powerful negative force, but he has to do everything he can to resist that, since teenagers will push back anyway, but they’ve got to have limits (aka discipline), and ultimately that is all they respect.
I resisted saying to dad, Look, figure out how to stay the course. Get whatever support you need, but forget the friend thing. Maybe some more of that later, but you will always be dad as long as you live, that is what you signed up for, whether you know it or not.