Ending a marriage is a dramatic, emotional process, but when children are involved, the whole ordeal gains astronomic proportions. Although the fact might seem obvious, it can’t be stressed enough – the way your kids cope with it is going to be a reflection of the way you break the news to them and communicate through the rest of the process.
Yes, it’s extremely difficult, because you need to be on your best parenting at a time when you’re extremely stressed and trying to cope on your own as well. But, with a little guidance and preparation you can ensure you’re doing your best and helping your children understand the coming changes in a healthy way.
Here is some crucial advice to follow when talking to your children about the divorce.
No false alarms
First and foremost – don’t use the word “divorce” unless both you and your spouse are 100% sure it’s happening. If you’re still trying to work things out or separating until you decide on the next step, explain to them what’s happening without mentioning divorce. Telling them that you’re only thinking of it will confuse and scare them.
Establish the rules beforehand
No matter how bad the relationship between you and your spouse might be, this is where you have to come together and agree on what exactly you will tell the children. When breaking the news, it’s best to do it together so that you can both answer their questions. That also indicates to them that you’re still working as a team when it comes to parenting.
But if this is not possible and you’d rather avoid each other, it’s important that you tell the same things to your children when talking to them separately. So, agree on what you will be saying and when, as well as some basic ground rules – no blaming each other, no pressuring the children to choose sides, etc. Being consistent, dignified and fair is crucial to helping your children deal with the process, so stick to the established rules – for the children’s sake.
Follow the general guidelines
The basic rules when talking to children about divorce are clear and long-standing:
-Stress that it was a mutual agreement between adults and in no way the child’s fault.
-Tell them that you both love them very much and that, although relationships among spouses may change, the bond between parents and children always stays the same.
-Explain to them that they will be taken care of the same as before.
However, children react differently according to their age and character, so it’s important you take these circumstances into consideration.
Choose your approach accordingly
For younger children, it’s better to keep things general and not attempt to explain complex situations, because that will only create a whirlwind of confusion. Younger children are more willing to accept that their parents simply can’t get along and that they’re separating so that there would be no fighting in the house.
Older children, however, will feel disrespected and untrusted if they’re just given simple reassurances.
Be sensitive to their needs and concerns. Encourage them to ask questions, but always stick to the rules you’ve established with your spouse beforehand. Honesty is important, but you might want to save some specifics (such as infidelity) for much later, when your child matures.
In the end, no matter what you’re saying, children want to be assured they will be taken care of, both physically and emotionally. Especially when it comes to older children, who’re more observant and comprehensive of your behavior, these assurances come not only through words but through your actions and the way you behave when communicating with them. Be open, supportive, understanding, but above all, make sure you convey to your children that you’re a responsible adult who makes responsible decisions.
Keep them out of on-going conflicts
You can’t present divorce like it’s a family picnic, but you can maintain a positive attitude. Don’t drag your children into issues that divorce brings – namely, the legalities such as custody and court proceedings. Consult certified family lawyers to get a clear understanding of the law and decide on your course of action before talking to them about custody.
It’s a difficult topic for everyone involved, and that’s why it’s important to have a strong, logical foundation for your decisions when you speak with them. Objectivity is hard to maintain in these situations, so professional help and counseling is necessary to ensure you’re doing – and saying – what is best for your kids.
Maintain open communication
It will take a while for your children to process what’s going on, and various feelings will build up. They’re not likely to bring them up on their own, so it’s your responsibility to encourage them to talk about their feelings, but in a non-intrusive way.
Ask them if they’re sad, and tell them it’s okay to be that way. Let them know that you’re there to talk whenever they want, and that it’s normal they might experience all kinds of conflicting feelings about the divorce. Don’t be surprised, because your child might actually feel relieved there will be less tension in the house.
It’s important to talk about this as well, and ensure they feel no guilt whatsoever.
One of the biggest issues all divorcing parents have is maintaining an aura of emotional strength during the process.
People tend to either overdo it, pretending to be abnormally strong and hiding their feelings, or they end up leaning on their children for support. Both are equally dangerous. It’s okay to let your children know you’re sad because of the divorce and to talk about it, since this is a feeling you probably share and can cope with together.
But don’t turn to your children to comfort you – you’re there to comfort them, not the other way around. Find a support system or a therapist to help you get through the process. It’s only expected that you will feel overwhelmed, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Take care of your emotional health so that you can be there for your children at this time when they need you the most.