Divorce and Your One-Year-Old
Parenthood is not a guarantee that a marriage or relationship will stay together. Of course, few parents are happy about a breakup, especially when one or more young children are involved, but that doesn't mean divorce doesn't happen. According to results of the 2000 census, 27 percent of U.S. children live in households with only one parent.
According to divorce and family experts, children of “peaceful” divorces experience less stress both as children and as adults. They also do better in school and in their own intimate relationships than those children who live in situations with continued conflict.
When there is too much conflict in a marriage, people shouldn't stay together for the sake of the kids. Research has shown that parents who put their children's needs first and who take responsibility for their actions, behaving responsibly and in an adult manner (no name-calling, blaming, or violence), before and during divorce are more able to be good parents. No matter what your marital status, you should work toward peaceful solutions of conflict. This means that your one-year-old should not witness intense fighting or arguments, should not be kept awake by yelling, and should never be scared by your behavior.
If you find that you and your spouse cannot resolve issues in a peaceful manner, you might try going to a therapist on your own or seeing a domestic violence counselor to learn how to create a more peaceful living environment. Changing your behavior and your relationship habits is not easy and requires true effort. But keep in mind that your child will behave as you do, not only when he is an adult but soon. If you don't want him to yell, hit, or have tantrums, you need to learn how to model good behavior. Counseling and therapy are the best ways to do this.
If your spouse is incapable of reducing conflict, you will have to be the bigger person and learn how to reduce conflict on your own. You will set a great example for your child on how to behave and how to protect yourself from a bully.
No matter what the situation, you need to remember that your child has a right and a need to love each parent, and to likewise judge each parent for himself. You don't have to tell your child what you think of your ex; you only need to behave with honor and integrity. Your child will form his own opinion.
If you can, try to communicate about rules with your ex. Children need consistency with bedtime, diet, and naptimes, at the very least. After that, recognize that there may be some differences between households. Mom may cook at home while Dad always orders out. Many of these differences may be okay. Kids can learn which rules differ from house to house and respect them.
Don't battle for your children's favor by giving in to all their desires. Children get spoiled this way. They get wise to this battle and use your attitude to get their way. Then they get confused when rules need to be enforced by the other parent.
Your Feelings and Behavior
One of the most important things a grownup needs to learn is that feelings and behavior are not one and the same. Although you may be feeling sad, depressed, scared, and worried, rest assured that you can still care for your child. Be honest about your feelings. It's all right to say, “I'm sad” without going into too many details. Try to be present with your child as much as possible. This will show her that emotions are important, but that you are still there for her. She may cheer you up! Be sure she sees you feeling happy and hopeful, too, so she understands the full range of feelings.
It may seem like a hard thing to do, but there are two rewards in it for you. The first is that you will see how well your little one thrives with your love and affection. More than that, her love and affection will in turn give you strength and happiness during this hard time. Spending time with a one-year-old is a great antidote to sadness.
Remember that you shouldn't take your emotions lightly. Divorce is tough. If your child is in a situation where he spends time in multiple households, you'll need to prioritize everyone's needs, including your own. There will be times when you must take care of your own feelings and emotions before addressing your children's, if only because you won't be able to take care of them if you aren't able to find your sense of strength. If you need support, get to a therapist or counselor so that you can help yourself and your child as well. You need love and support to get through divorce just as much as your child does.
Your Child's Response
Even though your one-year-old will not know anything is officially happening, he will absolutely understand changes in the house, especially if they are accompanied by emotional changes in the behavior of his parents.
If you notice your child's behavior or mood is changing, and you suspect that it is because of a change in your marital status, keep your explanation of the situation very simple: “Daddy and I love you even though we aren't going to live together any more.” Don't give your child too much information, and do all you can to keep from blaming or speaking poorly about your ex.
If your ex is behaving in a way that upsets your child, you should acknowledge and deal with that behavior, but only in a way that helps and supports your child. Your motivation should not be to hurt your ex.
If your partner is abusive — whether the abuse is verbal, physical, or substance — you and your children are better off without him or her. Abusive people do not change with love, and your children will only begin to believe that this behavior is acceptable. You cannot take good care of your children if you aren't taking good care of yourself.
The best thing you can do is keep your child's routine consistent and his time with both of you light. He is a baby, and his world should be safe and expansive, not stressful.