Parents’ divorce or separation is a highly stressful time for their children, and, with the divorce rates as they are, every year thousands of children have to go through the situation which they don’t understand fully and don’t want to accept. The way they react to it can be very different, governed by such factors as their age, personal traits, and the manner in which the divorce procedure is conducted.
One thing we can be sure of – the impact of a divorce on the child is severe. The feelings it invariably produces are sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, shock, no matter how they actually express themselves; even if suppressed, they are there to torment the young one. Having grown older, children will begin to understand and look on the issue with a more tolerant eye, becoming more mature in the process, but when it is upon them, they need help to assuage the shock and anger they can’t control.
Despite the unnerving time they are going through, the parents ought to take measures aimed at the best possible shielding of their child/children from the drama – and they can do quite a lot towards it.
Avoid conducting quarrels, noisy arguments, and legal discussions when the kids are around.
Try to maintain the usual run of the kids’ routines
For expression of negative attitude and distribution of blame go to your friends or to a psychotherapist; don’t voice harsh judgment at home where you can be heard by the kids.
As the situation progresses, you need and get support from adult family members, friends, clerics, and psychologists. Never turn to the children for support, although it may seem to be quite all right at times.
Stay involved in the daily life of your child and urge your partner to do the same.
Let the kid(s) know about your decision beforehand
Once you’ve made up your mind, inform the kids of your plans to separate or divorce. It isn’t going to be an easy subject in any case, but brace yourself for it. The best way would be for both parents to start the explanation, if it can be arranged. The conversation should be devoid of free expressions of anger, complaints or blame. It’s better to think out what you are going to say in advance and try it out – it helps exclude irritation or bitterness that can arise during the conversation.
The way you’re going to break the news should be in congruence with the kid’s age and understanding abilities. Think how your kid is likely to react to the news and prepare arguments and soothing words. Bear in mind that children are prone to feel guilty for what has happened – it’s up to you to tell them straight that the separation reflects the relationship between mum and dad and there is absolutely no fault of the child; it’s essential that the message should be conveyed and understood.
Explain to the child that adults’ loving relationships change over time, they disagree, fall out, and it’s better to live apart to avoid quarreling. Yet the relationships between parents and children (whether born or adopted) will always remain steadfast. With parents and children there is no divorce, they go on loving each other in spite of disagreements or different viewpoints, such is the flow of life.
Dealing with the reaction
Your children are expected to be greatly disturbed over what you tell them, so you must be ready to get across that their feelings are natural and understandable, you know how they feel and you sympathize. Express your sorrow over what is going on, ensure the child that both parents love him or her and inquire in what way you could make him or her feel better.
For some children the reaction may be retarded – explain that it is also natural, and you’ll be ready to talk to them when they feel like it. In other cases the child may disguise or even deny their hard feelings and behave as if everything goes on as usual, but you should know the stress is there and it can get channeled differently, affecting the child’s relationship with their friends, their behavior at school, or their appetite and sleep may change.
A very important issue for the child is always – how it will impact on their life. This issue is often prevalent alongside the multiple feelings the news of your divorce and separation has caused. Questions keep surfacing, and you should be ready to answer them. Your kid wants to know:
- Who they are going to live with;
- Where their mom and dad are going to live;
- Are they going to stay on or they will have to move, and if so, where they will go;
- Whether they will stay on in the present school or go to another one;
- Whether they will be able to go on seeing their friends;
- How they will be spending their holidays;
- Whether they will be able to go to summer camp;
- Whether they can go on with their activities;
And more questions to that effect. You may not know all the answers, but nevertheless, a discussion of the child’s future, even not ultimate, will be good for the child.
Helping the child get by
Disintegration of the customary lifestyle and loss of family values are difficult for adults and kids alike, but young ones, it being their first experience, are particularly vulnerable. They already begin to miss the kind of life they used to have. Therefore they don’t want to lose hope that somehow the parents will reunite in spite of the divorce proceedings. You told them it was final, but they won’t accept it, and the idea hasn’t sunk in properly.
As with many of their feelings, this one is perfectly understandable, and as time wears on, they will adapt to new circumstances just like adults do. Tell them that this wish is a natural reaction, but repeat that your decision is final and irrevocable.
What can a parent do to mitigate the grief of a divorce?
Accent honesty and openness; the child must know that they can give expression and discuss their feelings and attitudes, and it will be accepted and dealt with in a serious fashion.
Help them express their emotions in words. Watch their mood, behavior, and encourage them to come out in the open with their feelings. It’s very helpful to ask them if they are upset and what makes them feel that way. You’ll have to hear them out however unpleasant or difficult it may feel for you.
The children must be aware their feelings are real and recognized. Tell them when the time is ripe that you know they are feeling sad or miss the absent parent. Children must be given a good chance to voice their dissatisfaction, and only then you can suggest ways to keep their spirit up. They must know they don’t have to be apprehensive and troubled thinking of the future – they may feel good about what is coming.
Share their feelings, but show that you want them to feel better. They may not come up with any idea, still you can suggest something, even simple things like talking or taking a walk together. Younger kids can get relief if they talk to daddy on the phone or draw a picture for him or for mom, older ones can be distracted by making up imaginary situations.
Look after your physical and mental well-being. Such occasions can get you down even if you don’t feel it, and they can be made worse by financial and property issues involved. People are apt to forget about themselves, let things slide or behave in an undignified manner.
That’s why addressing your own stress is a very important part of your current situation. If you succeed in staying in good shape both physically and mentally, you can diminish stress so it doesn’t interfere with your daily routine, and pay due attention to the kid(s).
As you discuss your current state of affairs with relatives, friends or advisers, make sure you’re not overheard by the kids. When you meet your ex – especially when there are points to talk over – make an effort to stay calm and unflustered if the kids are around.
If the circumstances that led to your divorce or separation were rather bitter, you may feel justified in blaming your ex or calling him bad names – but avoid doing it within the earshot of your children. It may be difficult if there was cheating or other unsavory events involved, but it’s not worth your while including children in the details. If the child is old enough and curious, it’s advisable to restrict them from gaining access to your emails, texts and letters, especially if there is an ongoing conflict raging.
Don’t try to get along alone, there’s nothing wrong in inviting help. Go and attend a support group, discuss it on forums, ask other divorcees about their experiences, see what resources you can be referred to by doctors or clergymen. It won’t only relieve your burden, but will also set a good example for the young how to adjust to the new circumstances more effectively.
Besides, as you are getting help from friends, psychologists or counselors, you will be less likely to look to the children for that. Older children may not be averse to helping you out and even feel pride in being helpful in rough times, but you shouldn’t give in to the temptation. Show them how grateful you are for their support and sympathizing, but don’t start to behave as if they were friends or therapists.
When parenting is complicated
Although divorce is a massive crisis disrupting a family, it can work out better than you believe. If you parted amicably or can keep up civil communication and share the responsibility for the children, the severed union can go on supplying you with energy and strength even after both of you strike up new relationships.
Therefore, important points are:
- Enlist professional help and address your hurt feelings – the better you readjust yourself, the better your kid(s) will feel about the situation.
- Summon up all the patience you can – for yourself and for the child. Divorce-related emotions will be shaking you for some time to come, you won’t get rid of them very soon, be patient about living down the loss.
- Be attentive to sense the onset of stress. See your child’s doctor, teacher, and discuss the child’s emotional state with them; consult a child therapist to know what reactions you can expect and how to best handle them.
This kind of changes is always hard to bear, but all the way you should realize that you and you children will get over it eventually. Drawing on your inner strength isn’t easy, but with help and some coping techniques you can make this period pass easier for you and for your family members.