Navigating (Kid) Friendships Post-Divorce
If you have been through a divorce, or if you are friends with someone who has been divorced, you know that friendships ebb and change with the shifting landscape of a family. It's natural that certain friends gravitate towards one spouse or the other. Depending on the circumstances of a split, some friends may have a difficult time remaining close with both sides. And, again depending on the circumstances of a split, it can also feel hard for the divorcing folks to remain tight with certain friends they know still hang out with their ex. It's tough, but it's life. And you really can't - and shouldn't - waste your time and energy trying to convince someone to remain friendly with you.
As adults we are aware of all this. And as painful as it can be, we can understand and accept it. But what about the kids? Friendships that involve our children can also be disrupted due to divorce, especially when it comes to younger children who aren't really in control of who they get to hang out with and when. Without the regular friendships they engaged with before the split, living in two homes can feel pretty isolated and lonely. So, how can we prevent this? Well, the short answer is, we can't. Not 100%. Nobody can control the actions and feelings of everyone around us; we can't force others to feel comfortable sending their kids to new environments to hang out, or to feel comfortable letting their kids engage with adults they might have "opinions" about. But we can certainly do our best to make the transition easier and keep the doors open for our kids.
If you are the primary parent/friend/connection between family friends and your children: Talk to the parents of your kid's friends. Nobody knows what is going through your mind and in your family unless you tell them! Let these adults know how grateful you are for their support, and also how important their kids' friendships are to your children, especially during this difficult time. Reassure them that your former spouse is a good parent (if they are) and that their home is a safe place for the kids (if it is). Answer any questions the parents may have regarding this as best and as truthfully as possible while avoiding any gossip about your former spouse. Tell them honestly how much you and your kids would appreciate it if their children could have playdates/sleepovers/whatever at your ex's house, too. If it feels right to you, you could even invite your former spouse over at a time when the family will be with you so that everyone can mingle and engage at once and possibly smooth the way for interactions. Then, let it go. The rest is up to them.
If you are the shunned parent/former spouse: Reach out to the parents of your kids' friends. Introduce yourself if they do not know you. Invite them for coffee or tea, without the kids. Or, spark a conversation at a kids' sporting event, school event, wherever you happen to see them. Provide a human face to the often unseen parent. Tell them a little about yourself and DO NOT discuss your former spouse, unless there is something positive and related to share. Tell them that you would love to have their kids come over for playdates, etc and share your contact information. If the family seems receptive, encourage your children to invite their kids over. And, if they seem more comfortable with it being the other way around, let your kids go play at their houses or meet at a neutral territory like a playground when you are the on-duty parent. Then, let it go. The rest is up to them.
Letting it go is a big component here. We can't control how the other parents will see us or whether they will want their children to engage with us/our former spouses post-divorce. All we can do is put it out there and hope for the best. Disappointment is a part of life, for all of us. If the friendships wane a little, or if certain friends are not receptive to spending time at both houses, that's just how it is. Talk to your kids. Let them know you get it. That it sucks. That you understand. That it hurts.
At the same time, be open and receptive to establishing new friendships for your family. Sometimes, it is easier to develop new friendships that might not have the same baggage that the older relationships carry. If you have moved to a new neighborhood, pay attention to families with kids in similar age ranges as yours and reach out. If you have co-workers with kids who might be good playmates, reach out. If you and your children meet new people they connect with at playground, etc, reach out. If you know of other divorced families, reach out. Reach out, reach out, reach out. The goal is to help your kids feel comfortable, settled, and happy in both of their homes!