Seven Tips to Protect Children During a Divorce
Whether or not your kids act out, your divorce will affect them. Unless a parent is abusive—and sometimes even then—children grieve when a parent moves out of the family home. But that separation is not the most damaging part of divorce for a child, according to experts. Bitter talk and hostile behavior between parents are the most detrimental elements of a parental break-up for the kids.
You can go a long way to helping your children cope with your divorce by adopting a civil code of conduct. Here are the bones of a set of rules of the road that can steer you through. Add others as they come up in your own divorce.
1) Think cooperation.
Cooperation is key. Divorcing parents can ease the stress on their kids by developing and fostering a cooperative relationship with each other. This means you need to turn conflicts into discussions and work together on each aspect of the divorce. No matter what awful things the other parent has done to you, don’t allow the relationship to dive into hostility. Consider and resolve problems like adults for the sake of your children.
2) Communicate appropriately with your kids.
Keeping the lines of communication open between you and your kids is essential during a divorce. But just any communication won’t do. You need to give your children age-appropriate information about the new normal in their lives. They don’t want or need to hear about your spouse’s cheating or other problems. They want to hear kid-critical details like who will drive them to school and where they will spend holidays. It’s also important to let them know that the break-up isn’t their fault. Both you and your spouse need to reaffirm your love for them. If possible and true, let them know you still care about each other. Continue down this path even if you can’t convince the other parent to do the same.
3) Listen to your children.
You feel angry and stressed about the break-up and afraid for the future—your kids probably do too. Don’t use this as an excuse to pour out your rage and fears into their young ears. Acknowledge that you are stressed and sad, but don’t weigh them down with the details of the separation or your feelings. Save these discussions for adult friends. On the other hand, encourage children to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.
The divorce will be over in a few months and sometimes longer, but the pain and anger may last a lot longer. Be sure that you are there for them in the years after the divorce. They may have new thoughts about it as they get older. They may ask different questions and need additional different information. Never shut them up by saying it’s done and you are trying to forget it.
4) Do not drag the kids into the fight.
It’s so easy to involve your kids, especially older kids, in the divorce, trying to get them to see things your way. Avoid this as much as possible. Even if your kids are grown, they do not want to be included in the divorce mess.
If you share too many details about divorce issues, you may make an older child hate the other parent. This kind of manipulation can cause lasting scars, and the hate can sometimes rebound on you. It can also make a child feel despair. Never tell children any details about your spouse’s bad behavior unless and until they need to know.
Nor should you ask your kids to negotiate with the other parent for you. If you need something clarified or altered, discuss the issue with your attorney or your ex. It is also a bad idea to ask your children to convey information to your ex. This places the children in the middle of the dialogue of their parents, which places them directly in the middle of the divorce. This is a place the children should be protected from.
5) Say nothing ugly, nothing bitter.
Remember that your ex is the beloved father or mother of your children. And the more love kids have in their lives, the better. That should inspire you to leave venom out of discussions in front of them.
Give them the gift of allowing, even encouraging, their guilt-free love for the other parent. Never speak of him or her with bitterness or suggest that your ex is a bad parent. Let your children decide how they feel on their own, knowing that those feelings will likely change over time. Don’t impose your own experiences and emotions about the other parent on them.
6) Be creative in the changing situation.
Use all your creativity and enlist your kids’ creativity to develop new family traditions to replace the old ones. Every member of the family will initially feel a sense of loss around holidays and special times. Even grown-up children may be sad to see the demise of family rituals like a family Thanksgiving with everybody present.
Replace rigidity with flexibility, especially when it comes to celebrating events like birthdays and holidays. You won’t be able to have the kids every holiday, so plan to celebrate the weekend before or the weekend after.
Don’t inquire minutely into the new traditions of the other parent. Your kids may feel disloyal to you if they enjoy themselves, disloyal to the other parent if they report back. If they share news about a happy time, be happy for them.
7) Consider getting professional counseling help for kids.
Do not hesitate to enlist the help of a trained therapist if you think your children are having difficulties accepting or processing the divorce. You’ll be able to tell how they’re doing if you keep listening to what they are saying.
Divorce is stressful for everyone and even tough-talking teens may be devastated inside. Sometimes just a few sessions with a counselor will be enough, but a longer term of counseling may be required to help them move through the emotions.