Perhaps the most difficult aspect of breaking up a family is the impact it has on the children. While they may have witnessed the marriage breaking down, that does not make the reality of separation any easier. Children will have to deal with living in two households, adjusting to not seeing both parents together every day, and processing all the emotions this entails. Divorce can be hard on children, but there are ways to deliver the news that will help your children understand that they’re still loved and not responsible for your marriage ending. Once you’ve told them you’re getting a divorce, you can focus on supporting them and making sure their emotional needs are met. If you’re planning on getting a divorce, you and your spouse have a duty to make sure you present the news to your kids in a healthy way.
Below are some valuable suggestions for parents with children who divorce.
1. When the time comes to break the news, it’s best that both you and your spouse sit down together to discuss the divorce with your children.
You should approach the situation as a united front. Telling the news together is key to helping your children understand that they have access to both parents while they process the news. Plan what you and your spouse will say in advance. Try to explain the changes your children can expect as much as possible. Explain what will stay the same and what will change. Do not ignore your children when they ask why you are divorcing, but do not get into detail either. Choose a simple and understandable response, like “Sometimes parents stop loving each other.” Be sure to use “we” when speaking to your children and emphasize that both parents love them. Reassure them that the end of the marriage had nothing to do with any actions on their part.
2. If you are struggling to understand how to present a united front with your spouse, consider using one of these examples:
“Mom and I tried to work out our differences but decided it’s best for our family if we separate.”
“Dad and I have some adult problems that we cannot work out. We decided that it was best for our family that we not live together anymore, and we decided to no longer be married.”
“Mom and I aren’t happy together like we once were, and we both decided that we would be happier if we were no longer married.”
“We hoped this would never happen, but we know that divorce is for the best for our family.”
“Dad and I have grown apart. We both want different things for our futures, so we decided that it is best that we divorce.”
3. The location of where you have this discussion is just as important as the discussion itself.
You and your spouse should think about where this discussion can take place. Discuss the environment where you both feel your children would feel comfortable. Think about where your children can be open and honest about their thoughts and feelings in response to the news that you are getting a divorce.
4. Allow the children to express themselves freely and do not judge their emotional responses.
They will trust you more if you give them the opportunity to vent and share. Be empathetic and prepared to answer your children’s questions. It’s extremely important that you understand that this divorce isn’t just between you and your spouse. Rather, it is a major life change for your children as well. That’s why you should encourage your children to ask questions and express their emotions. Be prepared as those emotions may include anger, confusion, anxiety, abandonment, uncertainty, guilt, or self-blame. These emotions are to be expected. You should try to create an understanding environment to support your children. Be prepared to provide reassurance that your children will continue to be provided for by each parent in their respective new home.
5. Do not put the child in the middle of the divorce.
Children love their parents and have been raised in that manner; they cannot suddenly stop loving them and they should not suddenly have to be a pawn in an adult game. Do everything possible to ensure the children continue to have positive relationships with both parents. No trash-talking – no matter how you feel about your spouse emotionally, take the high road and show nothing but positive behavior so that family events can continue, from school conferences to baseball games to holidays. If children learn about certain details of the divorce (such as one spouse’s infidelity) it could foster resentment from the children and alter their view of the unfaithful parent and their relationships in general.
6. Support your children as they process your divorce.
Your children will require a great deal of support from you and your spouse to minimize the trauma associated with the divorce. To help mitigate some of the emotional shifts that could occur in younger children, work with your spouse to ensure your children have a consistent routine, rules, and home expectations. Focus on consistency for the goal of having well-adjusted children. Consider offering your children individual or family counseling to help them understand the changing family dynamic and provide them with an outlet to express their feelings in a safe environment.
7. You should seek out support for your children with other children of divorce.
You and your spouse should emphasize that your children are not alone. Ask them if they would want to participate in support services where they can connect with other children experiencing similar family changes. If you have younger children, suggest art activities to help with their emotions, schedule family meetings to encourage open dialogue, and read books about divorce with them. If you have older children, suggest that they might benefit from counseling, support groups, and journaling. Children who are able to express their feelings and feel heard and supported by their parents tend to deal with their emotions and changes much better.
8. You should expect behavior changes as your children work through their feelings.
They might express an increased need for affection, stop eating, or start sleeping long hours. Be patient with these new habits. Your children may be acting out when they really want you to explain what all of this means to their lives. As parents, you and your spouse should be as honest as possible, within limits, as some information might do more harm than good.
Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.