Divorce is not only hard on you as the one getting separated- it can arguably be even more difficult for your kids. Studies show that children of divorce suffer side effects, even later in life. Kids with divorced parents have higher rates of depression and anxiety, drug an alcohol use, promiscuity, conduct problems, lowered academic achievement, and pessimism about marriage and relationships that affects their ability to have healthy partnerships in the future. It is important that you put your kids first when it comes to dealing with divorce. To mitigate the damage of divorce as much as possible, follow these guidelines when it comes to your kids.
- Be as up front and honest as possible. There is some controversy around whether or how much parents should reveal to kids about the end of their relationship, however a couple of things are clear. First, you must tell them before the divorce actually happens. It can be traumatizing for a child to wake up one day and find that daddy has moved out of the house, and not know why. Second, be honest about the fact that your relationship did not work, but do not go into the details of why if it is going to make one spouse look bad.
- Keep it simple. Sit down as a family to have “the talk”. Let the kids know that mom and dad no longer love each other and have decided that it will be the best for everyone if they go their separate ways.
- Let them know what to expect. Be specific about what is going to happen in the divorce. Tell the kids when one spouse will be moving out, where they will be going, and what the plan is for custody arrangements.
- Keep as much consistency as you can. The breakup of a family is a big enough change as it is, so try to keep any others to a minimum. It is recommended not to change your child’s school if possible, and also for both spouses to remain in the same city. Try to keep routines the same, such as consistent times for waking up for school, breakfast, etc. and then coming home, doing homework, dinner as a family (minus one) and bedtime.
- Reassure your kids. Make sure your kids know the divorce has nothing to do with them. This may seem like a given, but it is important to voice this to the children out loud. Allow them to ask questions, and assure them that BOTH parents love them just the same.
- Don’t put your kids in the middle. This means never asking a child to go on the witness stand in court, never putting them through a custody evaluation, and never asking them which parent they would rather live with. These are cardinal no-no’s of divorcing with children. The burden of divorce should be kept as much as possible on the parents, leaving the kids to deal with their own inevitable troubles, such as having to explain what is happening in their family to friends, hauling possessions from house to house, etc.
- Do not badmouth your ex. This can be very hurtful and confusing for a child. Kids are made up of half of each of their parents- so when you say mean things about your ex, your child may take this as you also saying mean things about them. In addition, it is important for children to maintain a relationship with both parents. Badmouthing an ex can jeopardize this relationship and as a result cause problems for your child.
- Be a good co-parent. Although your marriage ended, this does not mean that your duties to parent together have ended. It is essential to continue providing a united front for your kids. This means maintaining consistency of parenting- if your ex grounds your child for acting up, the child should also be grounded if they come to your house as well. If you do not get along as co-parents, your kids will see this and learn how to manipulate and play one parent off the other.
- Get counseling for them (and for you). There are just some things your child may not feel comfortable talking to his or her parents about, and that is where a counselor comes in as a neutral third party to allow your child to vent as well as help come up with ways to deal with the divorce. Family counseling, such as trading weeks between spouses to go to therapy with the children, may be helpful in the early stages of a divorce as well.
Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT