There are thousands of reasons why you might be experiencing the pain of divorce. Every marriage is unique, as is every break up. And, if it’s true to say that marriage isn’t easy, neither is divorce.
There are so many things that will be worrying you, if you have recently decided to call an end to your marriage. How will you survive financially on your own? How will you cope emotionally without a partner? Where will you live, what will you do with all your joint possessions, and what will happen to your established couples friendships?
All of these things are important, and you have every right to be concerned about them. However, if you have children, it is likely that one of your biggest worries will be how to help them to survive your divorce.
How to tell your child you are divorcing
The way you explain the situation to your children will depend a lot on their ages. Older kids and teenagers are able to understand more than little ones, but need to be handled with perhaps even greater care.
- If at all possible, tell the children as a couple, together. This might not be easy to do, if you are really angry with each other at the time, but it’s important for the kids to know that they still have two parents who can function as a mom and dad.
- Pick your moment. Jumping in before things are really resolved between you can just confuse and frighten kids, but telling them too late, when they may have picked up the clues for themselves or heard the news elsewhere is equally bad. Tell them once you and your partner are sure the decision is irrevocable.
- Be honest. Don’t let them believe that it is just a temporary separation if it isn’t. This will only give them false hope and it will take longer for them to come to terms with the reality of their new situation.
- Be honest, but not too honest. There is such a thing as too much information when it comes to young children and divorce. Children don’t need to hear all the reasons why you and your partner no longer wish to stay together. Be careful not to apportion blame, however great the temptation. Do explain that you are divorcing because you argue too much to live together, or that one of you has met someone they love very much and need to be with, but spare them the nastier details.
- Keep your own emotions under control. It can be real scary for children to see Mom or Dad cry. By all means tell them that you are both very sad, but that you will all be OK. Keep your anger and bitterness to yourself too. Even if your partner has left you for someone else, your children are not the ones who should be used as sounding boards for your feelings.
- Be honest about the future. If Dad has gone away and won’t be having regular contact with them, you need to explain this as gently as possible. Make sure that the kids really understand that the divorce is not their fault. Let them know that they are still part of a family, even if that family is going to be a little different from now on. If there are other members of the family nearby, like grandparents and Aunties, reassure them they will still be seeing them.
- Make sure the kids understand that the divorce is not, in any way, their fault. Kids can feel immense guilt, even though it is misplaced, when their parents divorce. They may think that if only they had behaved better, done more to help about the house or gotten better grades in school that Mom and Dad wouldn’t be splitting up. Stress to them that this is not, in any way, the case.
- Reassure them of your love for them, and that you won’t be leaving them. If Dad is still going to be around, he also needs to reassure them on this point, and tell them, honestly, how his time with them will work.
Helping children to cope after the split
Telling your kids that you are divorcing is just the beginning of a long road to recovery and healing. There are plenty of things you can do to help speed and smoothe the process.
- Involve family and friends in your children’s lives. This helps kids to feel that they haven’t lost everything that was familiar and conmforting to them.
- Suggest older children talk to friends who are also in single parent families, so they can see that life does go on and they can be happy again. Encourage them to talk to their friends without you present, so they can be completely honest about their feelings.
- Try to do some of the activities that you enjoyed with them before the divorce. Yes, they will find it painful that Dad is no longer part of it, but familiar activities can bring comfort.
- Don’t interfere in their relationship with their dad, if they are still seeing him. Let them enjoy their time with their dad, it’s important to their happiness.
- Don’t use your children as spies, to get them to tell you what Dad is up to, and however tempting it may be, don’t enter into negative conversations about Dad’s new partner, if he has one.
- Try not to enter into a gift giving war with your partner. If one parent has more spare cash then the other, it can be tempting for them to try to buy the children’s affection with over extravagant gifts. If your partner is doing this, try to explain to him calmly why it isn’t a good idea.
- Make sure that their teachers and health professionals know the situation so that they understand there may be difficulties and so they can tell you if the children’s behavior is giving cause for anxiety.
- If necessary, get professional help. Keep a close eye on your kid’s behavior, and if you think they need counselling don’t waste time getting it for them.
Divorce is always a painful experience for kids, even if they seem to take the news calmly. Getting through it is tough, but it does get better. Children are resilient, and if you handle things right they will recover and adapt to their new situation.