Divorce is difficult for parents and children, but there are things parents can do to make the divorce easier for them.
Kids worry that mom and dad won’t love them after the divorce, that it’s their fault, that they might have to move and start at a new school with new friends, or that if we live with mom we won’t see dad again. Children use defenses of denial (acting like the whole thing will blow over), acting out (getting angry and blaming everyone else for their hurt), or trying to be friends with their parents during the divorce. Telling children the divorce is not their fault is a good start, but it’s not enough. Here’s what else you can to help.
1. Don’t Fight Around the Kids.
Keep your conflicts, heated discussions, and legal threats away from the children. Confine your anger and blame to counseling sessions or talks with close friends outside the home where the children won’t hear you. Most of all, don’t try to form an alliance with the children against your spouse–that’s a recipe for disaster. Remember, you are the adult in this situation and you should act like it around the children.
2. Break the News Together.
Once you are certain you are divorcing, jointly share that information with your children. Leave anger and blame out of the discussion and just share the fact that you no longer love each other and are going to live apart. Make certain to tell your children the divorce is not their fault and you will both still love them. Tailor the conversation to the maturity of each child and let them know where they will be living, what school they will attend, and that they can still see their friends. Be prepared to answer any questions and revisit the issue in a week or two to see if new issues need to be discussed.
3. Don’t Put Them in The Middle.
Parents shouldn’t share their feelings or bad-mouth their spouse in front of the children. And don’t try to find out what is happening at the other house by cross examining the kids. Your children love both of you and don’t want to be forced to choose between their parents. Give your kids a safe, comfortable, loving environment when they are with you and let them come to you if they want to talk. They will approach you if they have questions.
4. Make Only Essential Changes.
Change is especially difficult for kids when you are in the middle of a divorce. You may have to downsize your home, but that doesn’t mean you must leave their school district or neighborhood. There are always smaller houses in the area you can buy or rent until you recover financially from the divorce. Try to keep their routines as “normal” as possible and keep them in the same school and close to their friends if at all possible.
5. Be the Parent They Need.
Living through a divorce is difficult for the whole family, but that’s not a good excuse for a parent to throw a tantrum in the middle of the living room. Children get scared when they learn their parents are getting a divorce, but that’s not a good reason to let them be disrespectful. When a child acts out, give them time to calm down, and then talk to him or her in a calm voice and let them know you won’t tolerate disrespect. Be supportive, understanding, positive, and helpful, but don’t let your children use you as a punching bag. They need rules and discipline more than ever at this difficult time.
6. Deal with Children’s Feelings.
Kids will naturally be upset when they learn their parents are going to divorce and they will have all sorts of emotional reactions, from fear to anger or depression. Validate their feelings and tell them it’s okay to feel bad about the change because mommy and daddy do as well. Sometimes children’s feelings come out at school or in their peer group. Or children may show stress by changing their eating, sleeping, or study habits. Pay attention to these signs and take them to a counselor if they seem to be having difficulty coping with the divorce.
7. Keep Them Safe.
Children will naturally feel anxious when they discover that their parents are divorcing so it’s important to assure them they will still be protected, safe, and loved by both parents. Maintain normal routines, house rules, and discipline so your children will feel certain you are there for them when they need you.