Children, Parenting And Divorce
What should be your focus — in your new life as a divorced or separated parent? How do tell your children of your decision (or the decision of your spouse or co-parent) to separate or divorce? What parenting behaviors and strategies should be avoided, and which ones embraced, to foster your children’s well-being?
Although it was not always the case, divorce researchers and child experts now agree on much. Although we offer many resources (to support and detail these understandings) later in this section of our website, a summary of current wisdom on these topics follows. Feel free to browse our reviews of recommended divorce and parenting-related books and video tapes and DVD’s, as well.
Parenting At The Time Of Divorce
Focus On The Future And Goals In Co-Parenting
Once parents have made the difficult decision to separate their lives and/or divorce, it is important for them (as difficult it may seem, initially) to change their focus from a rehashing of the past to a reshaping of their future. When children are involved, couples must also separate their role as parents from that as former spouses or partners. Their task is clearly that of forging a new identity as a parenting couple and, if necessary, a new pattern of relating with each other.
Finding a way to cooperate as two parents is thus the preeminent goal for separated couples. Surprisingly to some, even when parents did not share common values or easily manage their personal relationship during the marriage, this goal is an achievable one — if a few basic principles and parenting strategies are adopted by both parents.
Divorce and parenting mediation promotes these objectives (just as divorce litigation often sabotages them). Working together in an atmosphere promoting cooperation, as mediation does, can assist you in defining new roles as co-parents. Good mediators work to assist you in improving your communication skills as you work together with each other in this process as well.
Talking With Your Children About Your Divorce Or Separation
One of the first and most difficult issues faced by a divorcing couple is: “How do we tell our children about our divorce?” Although it is natural to be apprehensive or even dread this task, it’s obviously a very important one. Managing this task also presents a first opportunity to establish new roles as cooperative parents, rather than as conflicted spouses or former partners.
Tell The Truth And Simply
Begin the dialogue with your children by way of a simple and straightforward acknowledgment that you are separating your lives (and divorcing, if you know that to be the case). Take care to do this in a nonblaming way and making clear that you (as the adults) are responsible for the divorce and your children had no role in your decision. And, don’t delay. Experts agree that unnecessarily withholding disclosure of the divorce from your children does them no favors. Children simply cannot, of course, be shielded from the reality, pain and loss of your separation and divorce.
Children differ in their perceptiveness. It is “old news” to many children that a divorce is forthcoming, while others are absolutely blind-sided by their parents’ revelation. Regardless of their disposition, children provided forthright, consistent and accurate information by their parents tend to feel safer and thus more easily express, explore and process, their reactions and feelings.
Agree On A Mutual Story, If Possible
Many children will ask only basic questions; generally, avoid volunteering adult details not truly inquired of by your children. More than just basic information, however, may be sought by children who are older or more mature. In this case, most experts recommend that parents discuss privately and agree on the outline of the “story” of their divorce or separation that will be mutually shared with older or more mature children. A shared story (describing how parents find themselves separating their lives) carries the message to children that their family, while changing, remains stable and their lives secure. It signifies their parents’ commitment to cooperation as well.
Moreover, children have a need to perceive “one truth” and a mutual story satisfies this need and protects them from having to evaluate and thus choose between their parents’ differing views. Forcing children to assess or choose between their parents’ descriptions of the split-up is to force them to “choose loyalties.” This loyalty bind, of course, is directly at odds with children’s innate desire for mutual parental love and approval, as well as their need to see both parents as worthy and deserving of their respect.
Of course, if you have concerns about the approach and content of these special and initial discussions with your children, seeking out the assistance of a trained mental health professional can make great sense. Feel free to call us for recommendations in this regard.
Other Suggestions For Talking With Children
Authorities also recommend the following, in talking with your children about your divorce or separation:
- As detailed above, in your “shared story,” provide only a basic statement of the reasons for your separation, while sparing children the “adult” details.
- Children often assume that they are somehow responsible for your breakup. Be sure to continue to emphasize in your discussions with your children, that the divorce is absolutely not their fault.
- Reassure children, as part of your first dialog, that both parents love them, will always be there for them and will always be involved in their lives.
- Avoid comments in your “story” that align your children with one parent, such as “He (or ‘She’) left us”! Your spouse or co-parent is not leaving your children. Such language only heightens children’s sense of loss.
- Talk with your children in an unhurried atmosphere and in a location of comfort and familiarity. Allow plenty of unplanned time for the children after the conversation.
- Avoid saying “Your dad and I [or ‘mom and I’] don’t love each other anymore.” Children frequently hear this as they are not loved! (Children tend to worry about losing their parents’ love should they misbehave.)
- Allow your children the freedom to share their feelings and emotions over the course of your conversations.
- Acknowledge that your children’s reactions and feelings (including anger or sadness) are natural and not to be ashamed of.
- Reassure your children that their normal routine will continue as much as possible.
- Avoid holding out hope for your reconciliation, unless this appears realistic. Children often fantasize about possible reconciliation between their parents. Their clinging to false hopes only prolongs and exacerbates their ultimate disappointment.
Approaches And Tools To Encourage Children’s Conversations About Divorce
To ease your children’s transition, consider also:
- Reading with your children, age-appropriate books geared to their experience of divorce
- Encouraging your children’s creating art expressive of their feelings regarding the changes in your family
And, simply don’t miss the upbeat and compassionate Lemons 2 Lemonade children’s divorce video-DVD. Finally! Kids and some very cool adults (okay, they are therapists, but not the stuffy type!) provide a bit of relief and reassurance amidst all the gloom and doom. Families, they remind everyone, are truly forever, so let’s make the best of it, yes? A remarkable breath of fresh air for divorce youngsters. Affordable and highly recommended! See our divorce videos page for a free preview.
Parenting After Divorce
Consider our website’s next section, to learn about strategies to embrace and behaviors to avoid — for more effective parenting, after divorce or separation.