Divorce is hard on everybody – it impacts both immediate and extended family, and sometimes even friends and coworkers experience some of the fallout. But the people most heavily impacted and who have the hardest time are often the people who have the least input or control in the situation: the children of the divorcing couple. Children very often have the hardest time adjusting to divorce – they are in the position of seeing both of their parents from close up while still being outside of the marriage, so they may see both their parents positives and negatives and feel strong pushing and pulling from both directions. Divorce also changes their lives substantially. They may have to move, they’ll have to adjust to spending less time with one or both parents, and they may experience financial or other hardships as their parents do. Even if divorce is the right choice for everyone involved, it’s not an easy choice, and it’s especially difficult for children, who don’t get a choice in the matter at all. Helping your children learn to cope with this impactful change in their life is an important part of the process for divorcing parents. Take a look at some strategies that can help.
Present a United Front if Possible
It’s important to remember that even as your marriage is breaking down, you and your spouse are still engaged in at least one joint venture that is going to outlast the marriage – raising your children. No divorce paperwork, new relationship, or other change in circumstances can change the fact that you and your spouse created children together, and the best thing that you can do for them is usually to make an effort to continue to parent together, even after the marriage is over.
That usually starts with informing the children of the impending divorce. If possible, you and your spouse should break the news together, so that you’re both on hand to offer answers, comfort, and reassurance. The more you and your child’s other parent are able to communicate and make important decisions about the children together, the easier the divorce will be on your children. You and your spouse don’t have to share the same parenting style, but it’s best if you can come to agreements about the big things in your child’s life so that your children will receive a consistent message from both of their parents.
Be Gentle, But Honest
Children are often more resilient than they’re given credit for. They can handle difficult news, as long as you speak to them on their level. Lying to your children, even to spare them pain, can have serious negative consequences. The truth always comes out eventually, and children who discover that their parents have lied to them can have real difficulty trusting in the future. So, for example, don’t tell them that your spouse is “away on business” when they’ve really moved out of the house. Even if your plan is to gently ease them into the idea of one parent moving out, an untruth like this can really backfire.
Instead, find a quiet time to sit down with your children and speak to them honestly. Let them know that while you and your spouse both love them, you can no longer live together happily and that you’ll be living apart from now on. You don’t have to spill every detail – for example, young children probably don’t need to know if one of their parents had an affair – but they do need to know that you’ve made a final decision and that you’re not going to change your mind. Try not to leave your children believing that you and your spouse may change your minds and get back together if you know that’s not possible.
Reassure Your Children
It’s not uncommon for children of divorcing parents to blame themselves for their parents’ disagreements. Children can also become very anxious about the effects that divorce will have on themselves and their parents. Will there be enough money? Will they have to move or change schools? If one parent left, does that mean the other will leave someday too? They will probably pick up on your sadness or anger, even if you try to hide it, and may be concerned about your wellbeing too.
It’s important to offer your children all the reassurance you can. Let them know that they’re safe and will be taken care of. Encourage them to share their concerns with you. Let them know about changes you anticipate happening as early as you can, and let them know that even if those changes aren’t ideal, you’ll work with them to make sure that they’re all right and that everything works out ok.
Make it clear that the divorce isn’t happening because of something that they did or did not do – that it’s only about you and your spouse. Reassure them that they’re loved by their parents, as well as by other friends and family members that are important in their lives. Make certain they know that no one is angry with them and that there’s nothing they need to do to fix things.
Be Understanding of the Impact on Your Children
Even under the best of circumstances, a divorce can cause children to temporarily regress, act out, or withdraw. Younger children may throw tantrums or start wetting the bed even though they’ve been toilet trained for some time. Older children and teenagers may seem moody. They may refuse to participate in family activities. They may talk back, speak disrespectfully, refuse to listen, or get into trouble.
While you shouldn’t overlook bad behavior, it’s important to understand that your child is experiencing something difficult and may need extra patience and support during this time. Be understanding, encourage your child to talk about what’s bothering them, and be willing to give them some space if they need it. Bring your child’s other parent into the loop if possible, so that they can help your child as well. If the regression or new behavior problems are severe or if they last a long time, look into therapy or counseling options – your child may need extra help coping with their new life circumstances.
Taking care of your family while going through a divorce is difficult. National Family Solutions can help make the legal aspects of your divorce easier so that you have the time and energy to focus on your family.