Children of divorcing parents are on the sidelines of the goings-on between their father and mother, but they can all too easily become a casualty. If your parents divorced, or if you have had friends (or your own kids have had friends) whose parents split up, you know how much children can be affected by divorce.
Consider Their Needs Before Your Own
If you are going through (or are thinking about initiating) a divorce, it is important to stop and think about how you want your children to remember your divorce and its aftermath. Will they recollect lots of fighting? Yelling? Tears? Shuffling back and forth between houses? Being placed in the middle of a hurtful tug-of-war?
Be aware that this ordeal will have a fall out for more than just you and your spouse. Yes, there may be a definite need for permanent change that results in forming a new type of family. But this can be done in a thoughtful way that is as considerate as possible of everyone involved, minimizing the pain while acknowledging the hurt.
Ask the Right Questions
Your children will be asking you plenty of questions throughout the process, and you owe it to them to provide truthful and fair answers. It would also behoove you to ask them certain questions, such as how they are feeling and if there is anything they want to talk to you about.
Be sure to only ask them appropriate questions – and realize that certain questions will be loaded for them. For example, asking them, “Do you like my new girlfriend?” is not an easy question for them to handle. They may in fact like her, and may be excited that she has a son or daughter their own age. But they may be afraid that saying they like her would hurt Mom. They also might not like her, but could be afraid to tell you the truth because they do not want to hurt you.
Try to put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would feel about certain questions if they were posed to you.
If your children seem like they are holding their emotions in or are not able to talk freely with you, be sure to provide them with other resources to talk to as well. Perhaps they are close to another role model in their lives – a teacher, relative, coach, pastor, or friend – who could help them try to process a confusing and painful turn of events. It may also be helpful for them to share their feelings with peers or others they know whose parents have gone through a divorce in the past, as long as these friends have constructive advice to help them.
Another option would be to connect them with a professional counselor or therapist. Sometimes friends and relatives are not enough. Professionals have specialized education and training that may help them to be more effective in reaching children. Additionally, they provide a greater degree of neutrality, which means children do not have to worry about hurting their feelings and can speak openly and honestly.
Think of the Future, Not Just the Present
When you are going through a difficult or emotional time in your life, it can be easy to think about how you are feeling or what you want in the moment. However, it is in the best interest of not only yourself but also your children to think about the long-term impact of any decision you make or action you take now.
By using Mediation or Collaborative Practice to negotiate the terms of your divorce, you will have the best chance of achieving results that are family-friendly. While a divorce is generally stressful and emotional for all parties involved, it does not have to be nasty or leave deep scars in the next generation.
photo credit: Bridget Coila