You walk back down the aisle, hand in hand toward your happily ever after. During that moment, no one is thinking about the best way to divorce. Yet, despite best efforts and work, some marriages will end in divorce.
Coping through a divorce is extremely difficult for spouses. But what happens to children when their family separates? Even in the most amicable situations, divorce leaves children sorting through an entire restructuring of their lives. No one wants children to bear the fallout of a marriage. So how can parents best help children manage the big feelings and numerous questions that often come with divorce?
Remembering that everyone heals differently, some general suggestions that can help your kids move forward through divorce are:
- Sit down together and talk to your kids openly and honestly at an age appropriate level. Be sure they know what to expect and what happens next. Answer questions honestly and acknowledge events that may be bothering your child.
- Listen to your kids’ feelings, keeping them separate from your own. You are naturally going to be emotionally charged. Keep that under control and focus on supporting and validating your child’s feelings. It’s ok to be visibly sad or upset, but excessive emotions from you can be confusing and upsetting for your child.
- Reassure your child you all will always be a family, but how that looks is changing. Most importantly, be sure your children know both parents still love them deeply.
- Understand your child has a right to how he/she feels. By forcing a child to “put on a happy face” or “stay strong”, your child may be less likely to share true feelings with you in the future.
- Keep spousal conflict away from kids. This can be very hard to do but is vital. And remember, kids are sneaky spies – so always be aware of little ears.
- Never use your children as messengers. Communicate directly or, if needed, through your attorney.
- Remember your former spouse will always be your child’s parent. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Remind your extended family and support system to avoid blame and degrading comments as well.
- Figure out how to incorporate some of your kids’ favorite family traditions into your new life while making new memories.
- Get help for yourself. Your life is changing drastically. As a new single parent, you may need more help with day-to-day life. Ask friends and family for support when needed. If you need help managing your emotions or learning how to develop a new support system, reach out to a local counselor.
The first two to three years following divorce can be the most difficult as children adjust. Be sure to watch for falling grades, behavior changes or concerning play in younger children. If you see anything that worries you, contact your child’s physician and consider counseling for your child.
It is important to note that these suggestions are for divorces that do not involve abuse of any kind. If you or someone you know is living in an abusive household, professional help for you and your children is always recommended.
Remember, a marriage and divorce involves two people, both with strengths and faults. The children involved are never to blame. No matter your current hurt and faults, your children love you and need you in order to navigate this big change. You will always be their parent.