When it comes to children and divorce, thousands of kids are exposed to its stresses every year. While their reactions will vary widely based on their age and personality, there are some constants you should keep in mind as you work through the process.
Be Prepared for Unusual Emotional Responses
It might seem unusual for your child to lash out, or express anger and frustration, but divorce is a new stressor they may not be capable of coping with. The results can be uncharacteristic outbursts, expressions of sadness, shock, worry, and irritation.
While kids are more flexible and capable of coping than many adults, they still need patience, understanding, and support during this time.
What Parents Can Do for All Children, Regardless of Age
There are a few important guidelines you should keep in mind:
- Do not engage in heated discussions or arguments in front of your kids. Similarly, you’ll want to keep the legal talk and negotiations away from them as well.
- Embrace routine. Keep their daily lives as normal and constant as possible. Do what you can to avoid disruption and keep them grounded in the familiar.
- Avoid blame. If you’re outside of a therapist’s office, keep the blame-game reigned in. It’s incredibly tempting to point fingers and lay fault at the other person’s feet, but this can be extremely hard on your kids.
- Co-parent as much as possible. Both parents will need to be involved in their kids’ lives. Work out the best way to go about attending recitals, sporting events, and classroom presentations. If you can’t be in the same place together, that’s ok. Work out a schedule, and do your best to tape and view events when you can’t attend.
- Get professional help. You’re going to need support throughout the duration of your divorce and after. You may be inclined to turn to your kids, but don’t. Even older children who want to lend a shoulder shouldn’t be burdened with the details and the acrimony that often accompany the ending of a marriage. Instead, lean on friends, relatives, a trained therapist, or your local church. These are all safe outlets for providing you the support you need.
Discussing the Divorce for the First Time
When it’s time to break the news to your kids, steel yourself for a tough conversation. There’s no easy way to go about it, and it will be better if both parents are present for the initial discussion. While you may be personally feeling anger or guilt, set those feelings aside. It’s important to remain calm and collected throughout the conversation.
It’s Not You; It’s Us
Regardless of how old your kids are, it’s important to reinforce that none of what’s happening is their fault. It’s natural for kids to assume they’ve caused the split for one reason or another; it’s a human tendency to assume blame on behalf of others. So it’s of critical importance to tell them, and continue reminding them throughout the process and after that none of it was their fault.
It’s also important to reinforce that even if you two no longer love each other, you both still love your kids with all your heart. And that even if you argue and have disagreements and can no longer get along as well you once did, that’s a natural part of life. People grow and change, but it doesn’t impact your love for them.
Be Honest about What Life Will Be Like Post-Divorce
While it might be tempting to sugarcoat the situation (You’ll get TWO Christmases! How EXCITING!!!), setting a child’s expectations is important. Let them know where they will be going to school and how their time will be spent with each of you. The amount of detail you go into will likely depend on the age of the child, but be open about the changes and honest about the challenges your kids are likely to face.
In the case of older children, consider how to answer their questions about the ending of your relationship. Again, it’s important to avoid blaming one another. So consider how you’ll field questions about fighting, angry outbursts, and even suspected infidelity.
Be prepared to answer any and all of the following:
- Where will I be living?
- Do I have to go to a new school?
- Will I be moving somewhere new?
- Where will I spend my birthday/Christmas/other holidays?
- Will I be moving away from my friends? When can I see them?
- Will I have to change soccer teams/piano teachers/other hobbies I love?
And if you don’t have an answer, let them know that you hear their concerns and that you’ll work to create a solution together.
Wondering about Custody and Other Child-Related Divorce Issues?
Find out more information about children and divorce by calling (770) 475-2521 for a free consultation with the Reeder Law Firm.