Parenting Mistakes After Divorce

Little boy looks sadly at paper cut-outs of a mom and dad.

After a divorce, it isn’t always obvious how co-parents should move forward with parenting solo. Of course, looking at the big picture: you’ll still be raising your children together. But suddenly being the only adult on duty can be a little disorienting.

Raising your children in the same manner as you were before won't likely be an option. As you adjust to all the necessary changes, parenting mistakes after divorce are bound to happen. However, this doesn't mean you and your co-parent can't still be positive forces in your children's lives. 

Part of managing the act of parenting after divorce is being able to recognise common mistakes and missteps. Once you know these four common mistakes, you’ll be able to spot them if they ever begin to creep into your parenting, giving you ample time to employ strategies to prevent them from becoming major issues.

Arguing over trivial items

When children grow up in two homes, items will inevitably get lost in the shuffle. But when you realise that one of your children forgot to pack their favourite pair of pyjamas, for instance, you must resist the urge to message your co-parent with unhelpful critiques or requests for additional drop-offs of the forgotten items.

The simplest way to prevent you and your co-parent from butting heads over forgotten items is to get rid of the whole ‘pack a bag’ routine entirely. For starters, having children pack up and “move” every time they transfer from one of their homes to the other can make them feel like guests in both. Your children will already be dealing with so many changes, and packing a bag every time they go between houses will only further prevent them from settling into their new family structure comfortably. 

To get rid of the routine entirely, both you and your co-parent will need a set of the essentials at each of your homes. That means always having clothes, toiletries and a few toys on hand. You won’t be able to duplicate the super special items, so your child may still want to carry their favourite stuffed animal regardless of the ‘no packed bags’ arrangement. But knowing that both of you have the essentials greatly minimises the chances of arguments over left-behind items.

What about non-trivial items, like medicine or sports equipment? Parents need to be on top of their game when it comes to things that cannot be duplicated. For medicine that can be divided, consider using a container to divvy up medication based on the number of doses that will be administered in each home. You can do this once and never have to worry about packing the medicine with each exchange. 

For items that must make the trek back and forth, use a checklist every single time. Print it and keep it by the front door. Have an extra sitting on your passenger side seat. Take a picture of it and put it as the lock screen of your phone. Basically, put it in a place where you’ll be forced to look at it before you’re halfway to your co-parent’s place.  And if you still forget? Be prepared for frustration from your co-parent, apologise, and simply do better next time.

Overindulging your children

A divorce is a traumatising event for children to go through, and it often leaves parents feeling guilty. As a way to try and make things right, some parents may overindulge their children a bit. This might be done by buying them lots of gifts, treating them to extra desserts throughout the day, or simply letting them get their way whenever they want it.  

While it isn't wrong to sometimes indulge your children's desires, it can turn into an issue if it is done too often. As time goes on, your children may have grown to expect this sort of treatment, and this can lead them to have unrealistic expectations of you and of life in general. They may begin to act out in anger or frustration when you or others do not let them get their way. This kind of behaviour is unhealthy and has the potential to lead to consequences in school, with friends, and in other areas of life. 

Although it might feel good to make your children happy in the moment, you're not doing them any favours in the long run by overindulging them now. Love and respect are things that are earned, not bought. Don't allow yourself to break the rules you had once set out in parenting, as this will just confuse your children in the end.

Badmouthing your co-parent

Even if you think that you never say bad things about your co-parent in front of your children, you might be saying more than you should sometimes. Badmouthing your co-parent can have its consequences, even if you think you're being "careful" about how you're doing it. 

Children can easily hear phone conversations you're having with a friend, look through your text messages, and understand sarcasm in your voice as you say something backhanded about your co-parent. For children, hearing their parents badmouth each other is an emotional burden. They don't want to hear one of their parents saying mean things about the other. They might even feel like you're trying to convince them to feel the same way, and that is completely unfair. 

As co-parents, badmouthing each other is an easy mistake to make after divorce. But no matter how frustrated you are, it can only make things worse. Take time to think before you start talking about anything that includes your co-parent. Talking about your feelings with a counsellor or therapist can be so helpful for working through your feelings in an appropriate setting. 

Other adults who are close to your children will also have an influence on their emotions. If your friends or family are the ones who are badmouthing your co-parent in front of you or your children, tell them to stop. Let your children have the opportunity to feel how they want to about both of their parents without any outside influences.

Making your child choose

After a divorce, some parents want to leave it up to their children to decide who they want to live with and when. They might think they are doing their children a favour by letting them make the decision rather than having everything decided for them. 

While getting an opinion on the matter from your older children isn’t a bad idea, children should not be faced with making this decision on their own. They might not know what to do or which way to go, as they don't want to hurt either of their parents by picking one over the other. It can also leave parents feeling hurt, believing that their children love one parent more than the other simply because their children stated that they'd like to live primarily with the other parent.

Particularly for young children, having to make the choice between one parent or the other is not a fair task for them to be subjected to. Children crave to have a relationship with both of their parents, and they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Dedicate yourself to working with your co-parent on a living solution that best fits your family's lifestyle overall. Working together to create your parenting agreement will leave both of you much more satisfied with the results because you'll have more control over the outcome. Explain your decision to your children, and assure them that no matter where they are, they can reach out to both of you anytime. 

The truth about mistakes is that everyone makes them, especially when adjusting to a huge life event like divorce. Even so, these parenting mistakes are all fixable. And if you are working proactively to counteract them, some of them are avoidable entirely.