Recently, I have found that the topic of divorce has been popping up in various conversations. It’s strange how you can go for months without hearing anyone talk about it, and then suddenly, it’s all you hear about – the “D” word. So I thought it would be relevant (and useful) to discuss some issues relating to the process of divorce and how to help children deal with it – because, lets face it, the kids are the victims here.
No one gets married with the option of divorcing – we all have stars in our eyes and huge hopes for the future when the knot is tied. Down the line, we even have kids and continue to hope and dream about their futures. However, in some cases (more these days than in the past – but that’s another topic for another day) these dreams and hopes begin to dim as the discord in the marriage increases. Today’s post is not going to deal with why and how this happens – but suffice to say that more and more marriages these days are on the rocks and headed for divorce, leaving a wake of collateral damage called children. So how can we make things easier for them?
In 8 easy points I will sum it up for you:
- First things first – be honest and communicate clearly! Depending on the age of the child, it is essential that you explain to them from the start what is happening and ensure they understand that it is NOT THEIR FAULT! This is something that you are more than likely going to have to repeat, because for some reason, kids always think they are to blame – so keep reassuring them that this is your mess, not theirs.
- Clearly explain the changes that will be taking place – everything from where they will be living, to whether or not they will still get to watch Ben10 on T.V. They need to be fully aware of the transition to make it less scary for them.
- Allow them to discuss their feelings with you. Create a space where it is OK for them to feel sad, scared, and even angry at you or your ex. Validate their feelings and reassure them that none of this changes how much you love them. Allow them to express wishes for you to reunite again – validate this wish, but make sure you also explain the finality of the decision.
- Remain civil and polite with your ex, especially in front of your children. This is a really important one, so listen up. Do not bad mouth your ex to your kids, do not blame, be angry at or lay guilt trips on your ex in front of the kids. Do not ask your kids to “report back” on your ex after visiting them and, ultimately, do not ask them to choose sides, or who they want to live with! Again, the dissolution of your marriage is your own doing and has nothing to do with the kids – they love each parent equally and should not be put in a position of having to break loyalty with either.
- Another really important issue – do not use your kids as emotional support. Having lost your partner and now, possibly, being on your own, makes it easy to lean on your kids for support. This often results in lasting damage and goes against the grain of parenting. Your kids need you to be the emotional support. They should not see you cry, they should not have you confide in them – let them keep the illusion that you are superhuman and can heal all hurts! They will need this especially during this time.
- Keep consistency in routine, rules and discipline. Make sure that homework times, meal times and bed times are adhered to. Ensure that rules that once were in the family unit still remain, as should methods of discipline. If you grounded your children before for coming home after a curfew, then continue this! Leniency and being spoilt does not make things easier for kids. Ensure that both you and your ex instil these consistent boundaries. While children often kick up against the rules, consistent boundaries and routines enable them to feel safe and secure, so you will, in fact, be doing them a service!
- Never ever say things like “you are so naughty – no wonder your mother left!” or “if you do that again I will send you to live with your father, he can have you”. If you are saying things like this, you might need to examine your own management of the situation and ask whether you are taking it out on your child.
- Lastly, seek support for yourself. This is a stressful time and a transition that is fraught with pain and guilt. If you do not seek help, or support, you are likely to let the emotional stress from the divorce spill out and over into your relationship with your kids. You might find yourself irritable, snappy and even saying hurtful things. This is a vulnerable time for you as well as your children and it is essential that you deal with it gently and sensitively.
And as a survivor of divorce has also noted:
If, despite your best efforts, you fail at some of the above, some of the time – don’t be too hard on yourself, you are only human after-all! Pick yourself up – get the support you require and try, try again…
So, if you are getting a divorce, have had a divorce, or simply know someone that is going through a divorce – keep the above in mind. They are simple guidelines that can make the world of difference and spare kids unnecessary heartache.
Till next time, remember…
“It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves.”
Francois De La Rochefoucauld
P.S. as usual, please feel free to post comments, or questions – or even ideas for future topics!