As parents it can be very easy to get caught up in all of the emotions that come along with divorce. Sometimes there is no way to keep the tension, anger, sadness and stress from taking over and allowing you to act against your better judgment. Divorce is a terribly difficult life event, not only for the couple, but for everyone around them, especially children. Completing and filing legal documents and deciding upon the division of assets are always touchy subjects, but the issue of custody of minor children is almost always the most contentious and potentially nasty part of any divorce. What are the effects of divorce on children?
The most important thing that parents can do during a divorce is to reinforce to children that they are still very much loved by both parents and that whatever is happening between the mother and father is not their fault or their drama to get caught up in. Regardless of how the parents feel about each other, the children should be kept out of the parents differences.
There are a variety of ways that parents can reduce the effects of divorce on children. Outlined below are a few strategies that parents can employ to make the transition from a family living in one place to a family living separately a smoother one for the sake of their children.
Keep Their Routine As Normal As Possible
Children need routine. When kids lack a solid routine they have a tendency to act up or become hard to manage. During a divorce, maintaining a solid routine is probably one of the best things that parents can do to help kids feel a sense of normalcy. Allowing daily routines to continue during a time when everything else in their life is filled with disruption and uncertainty will help children keep a sense of safety and security. Additionally, keeping their day to day lives as normal as you can, will reinforce to them that even though mommy and daddy aren’t going to be living together anymore, both parents are committed to helping the kids through the enormous transition.
Both Parents See or Speak to the Children Daily
In most cases, one of the parents will move out of the family home, and the parents will take turns being with the children. Whenever possible, both parents should make an effort to see or speak to the children every day. Remember, the kids are used to seeing both of you every day. When one parent suddenly disappears for days at a time the children are prone to wonder where the other parent has gone and why they aren’t seeing or hearing from them. Even if it is only a phone call in the evening to say goodnight or a car ride from daycare to the other parent’s location, make sure your kids know that you are still present and available to them if they need you. You don’t ever want them to feel like they have been abandoned or are any less important to you than they were before.
Never Badmouth or Undermine the Other Parent
One of the most devastating effects of divorce on children is one or both parents badmouthing the other parent in front of them. Regardless of your feelings about your soon-to-be ex might be, they are still your child’s parent and your relationship with your ex and their relationship with your ex are and should be kept separate. Saying negative things about your ex spouse in front of the kids will do nothing but make them feel as if they are in the middle of your fight and putting them in the middle is only going to hurt them. You may not love your ex anymore, but your kids still do, and allowing them to maintain a good relationship with your co-parent is what is best for them.
Spend Special Time With Children
You are about to experience a massive change to your life, and as much as your children will be effected by not being with you every day, you’ll be just as effected by not being with them. Handing off your kids to your ex for a day, a weekend, a holiday, will be extremely difficult. If you have more than one child you may want to consider setting aside time to spend alone with each individual child so that they can feel that they are getting special attention from each parent. If you aren’t going to be with your children for a holiday, celebrate it with them on a different day. Just because it is your ex’s turn to have the kids for Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holiday with them, just do it on a different day.
Be Honest, But Tactful
This can be a tricky one. You are going to have to give your children some reason why your family is not going to be living in the same place anymore. Don’t lie to your kids, be honest, “mommy and daddy weren’t getting along and we didn’t want you to see us fighting all the time” would be an appropriate response, true but without blame and without details. “Your father was sleeping with his secretary so I kicked him out,” would be an example of too much information and details that your child doesn’t need to know.
Stay Involved in Their Daily Lives and Activities
Continue to participate in your kids activities, if you attended little league games and PTA meetings before, keep going! Even if your ex is there as well, you can put distance between the two of you, but showing your mutual support of your child will convey that even though you aren’t a couple anymore, your children’s activities and interests are still of major importance to both of you.
Offer Them Professional Counseling If They Need It
Sometimes situations can become very ugly and some children will be more sensitive to what is happening around them than others may be. If you feel that your child is struggling to adjust to your new family reality, take them to a family counselor. The counselor will be able to help them sort through complex feelings and understand that what is happening between their parents is not their fault and that they are still loved by both of you. You can choose to do family counseling together, individual counseling, or a combination of both. The key to counseling is making sure the children are comfortable with whichever situation they are in and that they feel safe enough to be honest when sharing their thoughts, fears, emotions and feelings. They may be angry at you or your ex, and allowing them to express those feelings rather than holding them in will give them a healthy outlet rather than holding it in and causing themselves more distress.
Spend Time With Other Divorced/Separated Families
If you have friends with children that have already gone through divorces, plan outings with them or invite them over to spend time with you and your children. Seeing how their peers have dealt with the same situation can be invaluable to your children. Friends that have been through what they are experiencing allows them to learn how to cope with such a massive change from someone they trust and relate to can be a valuable way to show them how to navigate their way through tumultuous emotional waters.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
From time to time, take a step back and think about how you would feel if you were in their place. Have you been saying anything that they would find bothersome? Have you behaved in a way that might make your kids feel alone or as if they were being put in the middle of you and your ex? Keep in mind sometimes perception can be vastly different than reality; you may think that everything is just fine, but your kids may be feeling differently. Check in with your children and make sure they know that they can talk to you anytime.
You can minimize the effects of divorce on children, all you have to do is continue to put them first and keep their lives as normal as you possibly can. Keep the avenues of communication open and make sure to spend plenty of time with them and constantly remind them that no matter what is happening in their parent’s relationship, the children are always loved and considered in every decision that you make. If you and your ex can keep considering the children’s wellbeing above everything else, you can help them be happy and well adjusted even during such a difficult transition.