When you get a divorce, you aren’t just ending a marriage. You are ending the only relationship your children have known. This can be extremely scary for them. More than likely, they will experience some sort of confusion; and sometimes even depression, anxiety, and anger.
It’s a fact that the more arguing and quarrels the children witness, the more stressful the divorce and subsequent post-divorce period will be. Here are some tips on how to make this difficult process easier for them.
Breaking the News
Both of you need to sit down together with the children. Explain in simple, age-appropriate terms that you will be splitting up, but that in no way affects your love for them. Do not go into any details. Simply tell them that they can ask any questions and that it is okay to feel sad.
It might be a good idea to also inform other people in your children’s lives – their teacher, doctors, and perhaps the parents of one or two close friends – of the situation.
Allow the Children to Acknowledge Their Feelings
If you have reached the divorce stage in your relationship, your home is no doubt filled with an abundance of tension. The children may not understand what is happening, but they feel the unhappiness and anger around them.
Let them speak freely about how they feel. The odds are they won’t want to talk. Talking about the divorce means acknowledging that the situation is real. Both parents need to offer reassurance that they are still unconditionally loved and that nothing is their fault.
They are facing a frightening and unknown future. Offer then the reassurance that they are safe. Mom and Dad may not live together anymore, but both parents will always be there for them.
Children Should Never Take Sides
You and your about-to-be-ex spouse may resonate with bitterness and anger. If abuse and/or infidelity were involved, your emotions may be out of control. However, they are best shared with a counselor. Your children do not need to hear about the “other” woman or that he or she forgot your birthday.
Your children look to both of you for guidance. Divorce does not mean the end of being a parent. It is not their job to act as mediators. They need to trust both of you equally. That is why it is critical not to put down the other parent. It may be tempting to do so, but for the children’s sake, resist temptation.
You and your ex do not have to agree on everything. That may even be the reason why you are splitting up in the first place! However, you do have an obligation to your children to act as responsible co-parents and keep your children’s lives as stables as possible.
The children are – and must remain – your top priority. They should see you communicating amicably and respectfully. From their point of view, you are still a team.
As the children adjust to the changes in their lives – a new home, school, new friends, etc. -they will be concerned about the concretes happening in their lives. Who is picking me up from dance class? Can I still go to the gym on weekends?
Their life has changed in many ways, and reality can hit hard. Be sure to work out most of the details with your ex before the issues arise. This enables you to reassure your children calmly that life will go on. In the long run, all they really want is to feel loved and secure.
Rules are Rules
Two separate households can mean two different sets of rules. If at all possible, you and your ex should agree on setting down identical limits, such as regular meals, bedtime, allowed amount of television, etc.
If an agreement cannot be reached, don’t allow your children to play one parent against the other, as in, “Daddy lets us stay up late and watch this show.” Calmly inform them that what happens at Daddy’s house is up to him. In your home, your rules apply. Don’t budge on the issue.
You Can’t Change Your Ex
So far, we have discussed the most positive breakup situations possible, with you and your ex both holding the children as a top priority. But life isn’t always like that. What happens if your ex continues to wallow in bitterness and ignores the children? He forgets birthdays and special events. He pays little attention to them, even when it is “his weekend,” He may be too busy flaunting a new “friend.”
As the other parent, all you can do is be there for your children. Criticizing and/or cursing your ex won’t help matters. He is their parent, and they will still be hurt. The one important thing you can do is to encourage them to talk about their emotions without guilt. The children likely won’t initiate this type of conversation, so it is up to you, as the parent, to create opportunities for a talk. The best times are informal moments, such as while cuddling on the sofa with a bucket of popcorn. Make sure they understand they have a right to feel whatever they feel.
Dating After A Divorce
You have every right to enjoy companionship. However, your children also have a right to object to a new person being thrust into their lives. Give it time before you begin dating seriously. And only introduce him or her to the children if you are reasonably sure the relationship has long-term possibilities. Keep the introduction casual – perhaps go bowling or spend a day in the park.
The children should not develop a relationship with any “short-term” companion because when you break up, it will be another loss to them.
If your new companion has children of his/her own, don’t assume the children will automatically become friends. Again, give it time. As you create your own memories, remember this is a good time to begin new traditions as you begin a new life.
When you are going through a divorce or breakup, understand that you’re not the only one feeling pain and loss. So are your children. Your love and support will provide children with the emotional ammunition to weather the worst of the storm.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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