Children never ask for a divorce. Usually, they assume their family will always stay together under one roof, even if they know other kids whose parents have divorced. And when children first learn that their parents will separate, even if they saw signs like lots of arguments or too much quiet, they still feel unsettled and anxious for the future. Do my parents still love me? Are they divorcing because of something I said or did? Where will I live? Where will I go to school? Will I see my friends again?
So much emotional turmoil overtakes the parents in a divorce that these same parents forget the real pain and fear their children feel at the same time. What separates parents from the children in this situation are simple: parents are adults and charged with the responsibility of taking care of the children. Hence, when parents divorce, they must remember their first duty is to the well-being of their children.
What can parents do to help their children at this time?
First, take time together to tell the children that their parents have decided to separate, that it is not the fault of the children and that the children must have lots of questions or just want to vent their feelings, and then give them the floor to ask questions or vent. When answering questions, try and stay on the same page as a team and reassure the children that both of you love them and will continue to care for them. Explain what living arrangements you are considering, and bring them into the decision process to see if they have suggestions that would make them feel more comfortable in the transition period. If they become angry or emotional, let them vent and tell them you understand.
Second, offer the children the opportunity to see a therapist. Children want to please their parents, and they may not want to fully disclose feelings because they fear it might hurt one or both parents. If they can see a therapist, they can share their feelings without fear of judgment and in a confidential setting.
Third, show respect for your spouse and no matter how bitter you may be about the divorce, keep that emotion away from the children. Children should not be caught in the middle of the divorce crossfire but rather shielded from as much of the adult stuff as possible.
If you follow these three tips alone, you will go a long way toward making divorce a much healthier process for you and your children.
If you have questions about children and divorce, contact us – we can help.