Not every happily-ever-after remains joyous for a lifetime. No matter how much you once or even still do love your partner, people sometimes grow apart as life and time changes them. No fault divorces exist for a reason.
However, when children enter the divorce mix, things get complicated quickly. Determining custody and where a child will reside and attend school pale in comparison to the daunting task of helping kids cope with the emotional fallout of a divorce. Following these tips can help assuage children’s fears surrounding the separation and rebuild their confidence moving forward.
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Choose What to Confide
Keep your explanations of the reasons for divorcing brief and age-appropriate. A simple, “Your father/mother and I have grown apart,” conveys that while you still care about your partner, the time has come to part ways.
Ideally, both parents should inform children of the pending divorce together. In highly contentious situations, explain to children that the separation will result in fewer arguments and bring more peace to the home.
Keep details about specifics of the divorce such as infidelity out of the earshot of children. Many children already blame themselves for their parents’ separation and revealing damaging details about your partner can potentially increase feelings of guilt.
Compliment Your Ex Often
Always avoid talking smack about your ex, no matter how tempting it may seem. Divorce already threatens children’s confidence in their world, and putting your ex on blast only increases kids’ suspicions that they can trust nothing. Remember the old adage: if you can’t think of anything nice to say, avoid saying anything at all.
Remember Your Child Isn’t Mata Hari
As much as you may secretly stalk your ex on social media, avoid using your children to spy on your former spouse. Sure, you want the inside skinny on your ex’s new beau, but get the scoop from mutual friends, not from the kiddos.
Do keep the lines of communication open, but don’t pry. Asking your child what they did the past weekend when you pick them up from your ex differs significantly from grilling them with 20 questions about your ex’s new flame. Likewise, discussions about financial difficulties should remain among the adults, not the children.
Converse About Custody
Divorce creates instability for kids. Concerns about where they will live and attend school occupy children’s minds when they learn of their parent’s pending separation. Validate these concerns and involve children in custody discussions.
Many courts prefer joint legal custody arrangements whenever possible as such arrangements allow for equal time with both parents as well as permit for joint decision making. Problems arise, however, when one parent relocates out-of-state or travels often for business. In such cases, awarding primary custody to one parent while allowing for generous visitation rights to the other parent provides the stability children need to thrive.
Another challenge divorcing parents face involves creating a consistent list of household rules that each parent follows. For example, if one parent allows the kids to stay up until midnight eating cheesy poofs and watching TV while the other enforces a strict 10:00 PM bedtime, children may use the laxity of one parent as leverage against the other.
Kids crave consistency, so make drafting a set of household rules on which you and your ex agree an integral part of the divorce process. Include allowances for special occasions such as birthdays or holidays when you relax these rules a bit.
Healthy parenting requires even separated spouses to reach an agreement from anything from curfew time to proper dinner table behavior. Following the same routine across both households helps children to accept the divorce more easily as it reassures them that their parents still love them just the same as they did before the split. Plus protests like, “but dad lets me do it,” grates nerves already stretched thin.
Divorcing parents often have disparities in income, and the wealthier parent may attempt to ease children’s feelings about the split with expensive gifts. Avoid giving into this temptation. After all, if money could really buy love, you wouldn’t be getting divorced in the first place!
Single parents adjusting to the additional stress of parenting solo don’t need the added pressure of trying to keep up with their ex as well as the Joneses. Consider your ex’s feelings before buying that new gaming console along with a 55″ flat screen for Junior’s bedroom. Discuss gift-giving for holidays and birthdays with your ex so that one parent doesn’t look stingier than Scrooge McDuck.
Model Coping Skills
Children learn far more from what parents do than what they say. Even though you may feel caught in an emotional maelstrom as you go through divorce proceedings, remain conscious of the coping example you’re setting for your kids.
Share emotions honestly. Believe it or not, seeing a parent cry will not break a child. Teach kids to honor their emotions, and avoid hiding your own feelings behind a wall of stoicism.
Many kids feel anger at their parent’s separation. Train your children to express anger in appropriate ways. If you don’t want your child screaming, “I hate you!” later in life, avoid hollering such things at your ex-spouse.
Therapy benefits everyone, not just adults. Consider finding a qualified therapist to help your child cope through the divorce. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps children express their emotions in effective ways.
Divorce creates enormous stress in children, however, the majority of kids recover from their parent’s split and go on to develop into healthy adults. Ultimately, the behavior you and your ex adopt impacts whether your child bounces back from your divorce or remains emotionally shattered. Remaining calm and communicating openly helps kids adjust to their new reality and continue to thrive.