Helping Your Children through a Divorce
Divorce under any circumstances is devastating to both you and your ex-spouse. If there are children involved, preserving their emotional wellbeing is a major challenge. The trauma of divorce can have a far reaching impact on children who become more likely to repeat the mistakes of their parents. No matter how you may have tried to shield your children from the issues that led to your divorce, there is no doubt they picked up some of the tension, and are grappling to make sense of it.
Children, especially younger ones, are likely to feel responsible for things that go wrong because in their view, the world revolves around them. They are inclined to internalize your anger, hurt, regret, pain and fear. If you need someone to confide in or complain to, find an adult friend or counselor. Don’t put your children in that position. They do not have the perspective to be able to understand your pain and to help you through it. Instead, they assume they are the cause of it.
Be Honest About the Divorce
Honesty really is the best policy. Your children need to understand that the relationship has ended and that reconciliation is not a possibility. If they are allowed to hold on to false hope that mommy and daddy will get back together, when the hoped-for reconciliation doesn’t happen, they will resent you and your spouse and will have trouble accepting any future partners down the line.
Assure Them that the Divorce is Not Their Fault
It is vital that your children understand that they are in no way responsible for the break-up of your marriage. In any stressful situation, children tend to look inward for the cause. “Is mommy getting a divorce because I yelled at her last night?” “Did Daddy leave because he was mad that I didn’t pick up my clothes?” If you are not absolutely clear that the divorce is not their fault, they may naturally blame themselves first. The most important message you can give your children is that although Mommy and Daddy no longer live together, both of you love your children, and both of you will always be there for them.
Both Parents Have a Right to be Happy after Divorce
Let your children know that it is okay for you and your ex to find happiness in other relationships. This may be difficult for you, especially if you have mixed feelings about your spouse moving on. However, children (even adult children) have a natural tendency to resent anyone who competes with them for their parents’ love and attention. Be clear that nobody will ever take the place your children hold in your hearts, but that it is okay for you to be around others who make you happy, and that you may eventually seek the love and companionship of a serious relationship. Let them know they will never lose you in the process.
Helping Your Children Avoid Your Mistakes
We all hope that our children learn from our mistakes. You can help them do this by being honest with yourself regarding the mistakes you may have made in the relationship. If you are having difficulty sorting through your thoughts and feelings about the marriage and divorce, it would be wise for you to seek the advice of a counselor, both for your emotional health and to ensure that the messages you are giving your children are fair and balanced. It may also be helpful to have them to talk to a therapist. Most schools can offer recommendations or resources to help you find the right person.
Always be respectful of your ex in front of your children. If there are disagreements that need to be resolved, find a time when the children are not around to have those discussions. Children need to see both sides of the situation, and tearing down their father or mother can be confusing and even damaging to them.
Once the initial shock is over, encourage your children to join team sports, take up art, music or drama, or to journal their thoughts. Giving them an outlet for their emotions will help them gain a perspective, that life goes on, and there are ways to process their feelings and emotions that are healthy and helpful.
Your children will need a lot of support during this time. You can be a key factor in helping them process your divorce in a healthy way.