Making the decision to file for divorce is difficult, but it can be necessary if there are problems the couple can’t overcome. However, when there are children involved with your divorce, it can be even more difficult. Parents separating can be a child’s worst nightmare, making it difficult to adjust. It is up to the parents to make this entire process easier so their children can grow into well adjusted adults who know that both their parents loved them enough to do what was best for them, even if they didn’t get along with each other. Learn about Children and Divorce!
Breaking the News
One of the first choices you need to make is how to break the news to your children. Odds are they already know something isn’t quite right with the situation and may already be expecting your announcement. However, it is still important to approach this discussion in an age-appropriate manner. First of all, it is important to tell your children together if you can. This will present a united front your children need. When you approach your kids to talk to them, consider the following:
- Be honest
- Let them know you both still love them
- Tell them about the changes they can expect
- Avoid blaming anyone
- Don’t provide too many details
- Let your child lead by answering questions in an age-appropriate manner
In addition to talking to your child about their parents separating, it is also important to listen. As you listen, you can address their concerns and help them understand how their lives will change and how they will stay the same. Some of the ways you can show your child you are listening is by:
- Helping them find words to express themselves
- Acknowledging their feelings
- Letting them be honest
- Being patient
- Reassuring your children that it will be okay and you will both still be there for them
Expect a Lot of Questions
When it comes to children and divorce, there will be a lot of questions. Some of these questions will be asked when you first announce your divorce and discuss things. Others will come out over time. Before you address the issue of divorce with your children, make sure you are ready to answer the following questions:
- Who will I live with and where?
- Can I stay at my school?
- Where will I spend holidays?
- Will I still see my friends?
- Can I still participate in the same activities?
Some of these questions may seem irrelevant or unusual, but they are important to your children. Therefore, it is essential to answer them, even if you don’t think the question is really necessary.
Maintain a Level of Consistency
Even though children are extremely resilient, it is important to maintain a level of consistency in their lives. Hearing their parents are separating can have a dramatic emotionally impact on a child’s life. They are likely to feel as if their world is turned upside down and they fear all the changes that may be coming their way. It is up to you as the parent to ensure as little as possible changes in their lives. This means allowing them to remain in the home and at their old school, if possible. Even if this isn’t possible, make sure you maintain the rules they’ve always had. It may be tempting to relax some of your rules in an attempt to make things easier, but children still need structure to function.
Counseling can be a powerful tool when it comes to children and divorce. Your child may have difficulty expressing his feelings to you because he doesn’t want to upset you or make you think he won’t be okay. Children often have a need to protect their parents and don’t want to make anyone angry. Talking to a counselor can allow your child to open up in a way he doesn’t feel comfortable doing with you. The counselor can also offer input on his feelings, helping him understand his emotions are normal and things will get better over time. He may also learn various coping techniques to help him regain a handle on his life.
Always Put Your Child First
One of the most difficult aspects of going through a divorce as a parent is putting your child first. If you feel the other parent is at fault, you may be tempted to punish the other parent by using your child, such as asking for primary custody or requesting supervised visitation. Unfortunately, these actions will only hurt the child. Children need both their parents unless one parent has proven to be a physical or mental danger to the child. Before taking any actions or saying something you wish you could take back, wait a couple of days and then make a decision to increase your chances of putting your child first.
Take Care of Yourself
It may seem as if your children should be your only focus, but it is also important to take care of yourself. Many people go through the phases of grief and may even feel depressed as a result of going through the divorce. However, it won’t do your children any good if you aren’t as healthy as possible. Some of the things you can do to ensure you stay as healthy as possible include:
- Eat well
- Get out and have fun
- Write down your feelings
- Seek counseling
- Lean on your friends
- Take up a new hobby
When you take care of yourself, it will be easy to focus on the needs of your children and make sure they are met.
Watch for Signs of a Serious Problem
While many children have an easier time adjusting to these changes, there are others who may experience greater difficulties when they try to make the adjustment. Unfortunately, many children don’t reach out when they need help. Instead, they often exhibit red flags that indicate they are reaching out for help. These signs include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sliding school performance
- Drug or alcohol use
- Angry or violent outbursts
- Withdrawal from activities, family and friends
If your child is showing any of these signs, seek professional assistance immediately.
Consider Your Child’s Needs in Your Agreements
As you move forward with the divorce process, you will need to create a custody and visitation plan that is fair for everyone. Unfortunately, many parents consider their own needs over the needs of their children. This will only lead to resentment and can cause problems with your child beyond what he may normally experience. Before you set a schedule for visitation, ask yourself whether it will be easy for your child to adjust and if it gives him the opportunity to participate in sports or other activities. It can also be helpful if you and your soon-to-be ex are flexible to accommodate the child’s needs.
What You Should Avoid
It is normal for parents to make mistakes when it comes to children and divorce. No one is perfect, but it is important to try your best not to make serious mistakes that will make life more difficult for your child. In some situations, these mistakes are easy to make without even thinking about it. For this reason, it is essential to be mindful of what you are doing so you can protect your child as much as possible. Some of the most common mistakes parents make include:
- Don’t pass messages through your child. Talk to the other parent directly instead.
- Don’t discuss your personal feelings and problems with your child.
- Don’t ask a lot of questions after a visit with the other parent.
- Don’t make it up to your child.
- Don’t speak badly about your ex.
- Avoid other major changes until things settle down.
- Don’t restrict contact with the other parent.
It is so difficult for two parents who are getting a divorce to work together for the good of the child. It is easier to feel hostility toward each other, especially when one parent is seen as at fault. However, it is important to realize you share a child together and that will never change. You have to put up with each other until your child turns 18, but even after that, there will be times when you have to get together, such as college graduations, weddings and the birth of grandchildren. Therefore, it is in your children’s best interest to work hard to make life pleasant when you have to be around each other. You don’t have to be friends, but you should be able to get along.
Children and divorce can be a complicated topic. However, there are some marriages that simply shouldn’t continue due to a number of factors. If you feel your marriage is over, it is important to learn how to help you parents deal with their parents separating. When you can work together and put your children’s best interests first, you will find they adapt to the changes and become well adjusted adults who understand their parents still love them, no matter what.