Every parent fears that their divorce will be disruptive and possibly traumatic to their children. The good news is that children are remarkably resilient, and as long as you are attentive to their needs during the process, you can spare them a great deal of emotional turmoil. Of course, that’s a tall order, since you’re undergoing a fair share of turmoil yourself, and you might not know what exactly you should be doing to ease your children’s minds. Again, there’s good news, because much of what we’re going to tell you is common sense, and you don’t have to be perfect in every moment of every interaction to make a profound difference in how your children handle your divorce.
So, here are a few tips that we’ve developed during decades of practice on ways to manage divorce for your kids:
- Stick to your/their routine — Children need stability at all times, but especially when the future is uncertain. Make sure your kids not only go to school, but maintain their regular schedule of activities. Whatever temporary custody/visitation plan you come up with must put their needs first.
- Pay attention and have patience — You must understand that kids will have issues, even if you parent like a superstar. And that’s okay, because managing those issues is part of the process. You can expect kids to act out in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. Don’t deny this is happening, but meet their behavior openly, honestly, and with patient understanding. While you’re at it, be patient with yourself.
- Consider counseling — Your children may need to speak to a professional to process what is happening. If acting out behavior persists, it may be prudent to seek assistance from a child psychologist.
- Encourage a positive relationship with the other parent — You must acknowledge that your children love their other parent and, regardless of your feelings in the matter, that affection is probably good and healthy. You should not speak ill of the other parent to them, or even hint that you expect them to take your side. Putting them in the middle of your conflict will burden them with stress for no good purpose. If you are the custodial parent, make sure that your children are ready for visits. Project a positive attitude about them spending time with their other parent.
- Don’t burden your children with adult issues — Kids get stressed out when they lose their innocence too quickly. Only share the most necessary facts with them, and present these facts in ways that children can understand. Even if your children are somewhat older and mature, do not make them a sounding board for your problems. Also, don’t use your children to deliver messages to the other parent.
- Build a support network — Your children will need extra attention at a time when you may be under inordinate stress. Leaning on close friends and relatives for support can take pressure off you, and help you conserve energy for interacting positively with your kids. Relatives with whom your children already have a close relationship can be a great resource, too. But be wary of introducing your kids at this time to adults they don’t know.
Divorce introduces uncertainty about the future. As an adult, you can rationally choose an uncertain future over a broken relationship. But children need to be reassured that what they cherish most, the love of their parents, will continue even if they live in separate homes. With the proper focus and attention, you can help your children accept your divorce and get through it with little disruption.