I heard a great lecture by a social worker exhorting divorcing parents to please, please put their children first. To remember they are children. I will summarize what I can from my notes:
Children need people who are bigger, stronger, wiser and kind. They need adults who can take charge when necessary. Adults they can rely upon. They need a secure base to start from Then they can go out and explore their world. You can enjoy that, and watch and help as needed. Whenever they hit a stumbling block, they will need to come back and find a safe haven. Once they check in, and get comfort, they will be ready to head back out and explore.
If they are worried about you – if you show them that are not handling things well, that you are sad and angry and hurt all the time – guess what? They will hit that stumbling block, and they will not come to you for help and comfort. They will not come to you for guidance. And it will be really hard for you, once they decide you are NOT a safe haven, to regain that trust. More importantly, it will be hard for them to trust anyone, even once they grow up. You might be relieved, you might be proud, to see them so self-reliant, but keep in mind they are children. Not adults.
If you can only remember one thing, remember this: Your job is to take care of yourself and your children. Your children’s only job is to be a kid. So don’t take their childhood away from them for your own comfort. You are a grownup, and eventually, you will put your life back together. You have the tools, the resources and the power to do that. But if you take their childhood, and turn them into a caretaker for you, they will not get their childhood back. And they will end up caretaking others in toxic ways. And it will break your heart, not only to see it, but to know that you set them up.
So if you remember only this, be the grownup. Let them be the kids.