It Takes A Village

Make your expectations clear.

Single parents often need to be resilient to accommodate the great and ever-present need for flexibility when co-parenting. At some point, no matter the family arrangement, parents will need to reach beyond their strengths and abilities and rely on the strength of others. For co-parents, however, having other adults involved in their uniquely complicated family structure can elicit a multitude of questions and concerns.

Nevertheless, the involvement of adults beyond yourself and your co-parent in the raising of your children will be inevitable. Teachers, doctors, extended family, and friends will all play roles, big and small, in how children are brought up. While you won’t be able to control every single interaction between your kids and the adults in their lives, there will be times when you may want your word to be law.

The importance of positivity

It’s common for parents to be concerned about how they are discussed in their co-parent’s home. No parent wants to hear from their child that the other parent has been speaking negatively about them in their home. If you are co-parenting with your child’s well-being in mind, ensuring any discussion of the other parent within your household remains positive will be vital.

It can be harder to rely on extended family members or friends to maintain that same rule. You’ll need to make clear to anyone you are close to—grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends—that no matter how they feel about your co-parent, any misgivings they feel about your child’s other parent are to remain private. Having a grandparent, aunt, or uncle speaking negatively about one of their parents can cause a great deal of stress to a child. If your children inform you that a family member has been impugning their other parent or if you hear that criticism yourself, take swift and decisive steps to put a stop to it.

It’s not just your co-parent you’ll want to remain positive about, however. Your new family situation will initially feel very alien to your children. Negativity about two-household families generally can delay your children’s adjustment to their new family structure. So while divorce or separation may not be a happy occasion, you may want to discuss with family and friends how you want the issue of co-parenting dealt with in front of your kids.

When your kid comes with questions

When your child comes to you with questions about your divorce, no matter how thoroughly you’ve prepared, you might experience momentary panic. But as their parent, you know that you’ve thought carefully and deeply about your child and how your divorce has affected them. You also have firsthand experience that will make your answers inherently well-informed.

But when your child has a pressing question that simply cannot wait, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be the nearest adult they feel comfortable asking. They may even initially feel more comfortable asking certain questions of a grandparent or family friend. What happens to your carefully thought out answers then?

How comfortable you feel with your child’s divorce questions being answered by other adults will vary with the situation. It may be dependent on the nature of the question or who precisely is being asked the question in the first place. You may need to ask yourself if you trust the judgment of family members and friends enough to field complicated and fraught questions about your divorce. If you’re okay with those close to you answering your kids’ questions, you may still want to request that the content of those conversations be relayed to you after they happen, just in case you wish to address any concerns your child may have for yourself.

Alternatively, you may wish that friends and family members direct your children’s questions to you. “I’m sure your mom or dad would be able to answer that question,” when said kindly and non-dismissively can show children they can still rely on adults for help, even though their questions may not be addressed immediately by this particular adult.  

Enlisting professional help

Regardless of how deeply they desire they could, parents will not be able to answer their child’s every question. Children may be unable to come to them with every single one of their worries and fears. Having a neutral, third-party professional with whom they can discuss their feels can be a great help for kids, especially when they are unsure of how to broach topics with their parents. Enlisting the help of a mental health professional can assist children in understanding and coping with the big and often scary emotions that accompany parents separating. Parents can also gain a better understanding of their children’s emotions and how to give them extra help when they may need it.

The involvement of other adults in the raising of your children can run the gamut from joyous to nerve-wracking. Nevertheless, that involvement is unavoidable. Parents will want to think deeply about how they want their divorce, their children, and the other adults in their lives to interact. Whether that’s setting strict ground rules for fielding questions from your kids, or if you and your co-parent end up taking a more organic approach to those discussions, it may help you to consider what you think is important when it comes to how your friends and family discuss your divorce with your children.