Divorce is an earth-shattering experience for any couple to go through. In some ways, though, it’s worse for their kids because they were not a part of the decision for the breakup. Parents often try to stay together for the sake of the kids even when the marriage clearly isn’t working. Finally, they admit that it’s better for everyone involved if they split up. Here are 10 ways to help your kids deal with divorce.
1. Decide how you will break the news
The ideal situation is for both parents to meet with all the kids at the same time. That way, everyone gets a consistent message instead of hearing it first from one parent who likely has their own side of the story. All siblings should get the update simultaneously.
2. Explain the separation or divorce
You’ll need to consider what explanations are age-appropriate. The main message could be that mommy and daddy fight too much (this likely won’t be news to any child) and will be happier living apart. You don’t need to go into detail about the conflicts that led to the schism. Avoid explanations that place blame, which will encourage your children to take sides and make coparenting more difficult.
3. Reassure them the divorce is not their fault
Many children mistakenly feel that they are responsible for their parents’ split. If only they had done something differently, the family wouldn’t be in this mess. Make sure they understand that divorce happens for reasons unique to each couple, and there is nothing the kids could have done to make them stay together.
4. Emphasize that you will always love them
It will usually be evident that you no longer have romantic love for your ex-partner. However, it’s critical that your children understand that each parent will love them forever. Although the marriage itself is a casualty, the bond between the parent and child will endure. Kids need to understand that you are not divorcing them.
5. Encourage kids to talk about their feelings
It’s natural for children whose parents are separating or divorcing to have a range of reactions. They might feel any combination of sadness, anger, grief, confusion, and guilt. Give them space to talk to you and your ex-spouse about their feelings. Keeping emotions bottled up inside will only cause further problems. It may also be helpful to bring your children to see a counselor who specializes in helping kids coping with the divorce of their parents.
6. Establish and maintain a routine
One of the first things the kids will want to know is where they will live. Make sure you and your ex-partner have figured out a schedule that will work for everyone. It will depend on your custody arrangement. In a joint custody situation, the parents typically split the time they spend with their kids. For example, the children might technically live in the family house, but go to the other spouse’s home every other weekend from Thursday afternoon to Sunday evening.
A less common arrangement that works for some couples is one where the kids stay in the family house all the time, and the parents rotate who stays there. This “nesting” arrangement gives the kids the stability of staying in one home without shuttling back and forth. They don’t have the problem of leaving toys, clothes, or homework at the wrong house. However, it takes a special type of coordination for parents to make this option work.
Whatever arrangement you have, make sure it is as consistent as possible. Uncertainty about where they will sleep or eat only adds to a child’s stress.
7. Keep other family members and friends involved in their lives
Children need positive influences. Make sure they have regular contact with friends and extended family including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Religious or community organizations might also provide support. Wherever possible, make sure that your kids are exposed to other married people who are good role models. Your children need to see that marriage can be a success.
8. Don’t fight in front of them
Whether it’s about the reasons for the divorce, current financial issues, or bad behavior, resist the urge to squabble with or yell at your ex-partner in front of the kids. Don’t paint your ex-spouse as the problem. Be civil and respectful. No matter how you and your ex may feel about each other, you still have a common goal of wanting the best for your children.
9. Set a pattern for birthdays and holidays
You’ll want to spend every birthday and holiday with your children, but you must face the reality that your ex-partner will also want to share these special times. Just as you’ll need to establish a routine living situation, you and your former spouse should plan in advance for how you will handle the holidays.
Thanksgiving might be the hardest to share because it’s typically a family holiday, yet the children can’t eat two full turkey meals in one day. You might rotate Thanksgiving every year and have the main meal with one parent and dessert with the other.
10. See a family therapist or counselor
On airplane flights, they tell you to put on your air mask first before you try to assist others. The same holds true for your children during a divorce. You’ll be in a much stronger position to help your kids if you see your own counselor or attend a support group to help you weather the effects of your divorce. Family therapy might help everyone work together to make things more tolerable. And individual counseling will help you manage your emotions without negatively impacting your children.
Divorce has inevitable impacts on every member of the family. However, if the divorce is handled properly, you kids might emerge stronger and more capable of dealing with change and adversity.