Imagine you're on a sinking ship in the dark. Other people are holding all of the life jackets, flares, and flashlights.
This image should give you an idea of the type of the emotional quicksand that children whose parents are currently in the process of getting a divorce may be experiencing.
Unfortunately, divorce often brings out the worst in even the kindest and most rational adults. With more than 48-percent of all marriages ending in divorce at some point during the first 20 years of marriage, it's more important than ever for adults to realize what their divorce looks like through the eyes of their children.
Fortunately, there are organizations and networks like Divorce in Peace designed to help you and your family get through these temporarily rough seas and continue onward toward a happy, healthy future.
Here's what you need to know about how your children may view your divorce:
They May Blame Themselves
Children may blame themselves in an attempt to make sense of the situation, when you inform them that you and your spouse will be getting a divorce.
You likely already know this first, seemingly obvious, piece of advice. But children are better at putting up a brave front than many parents realize. Whether or not you think a child is holding him or herself partly responsible, take care to reassure children of all ages with simple, casual comments that explain their lack of influence on the situation.
Remember that, even if you feel that you’re giving the right message about this topic, consider other words and actions on your part that may undermine your intention.
For instance, although it will be natural for you and your spouse to feel substantial anxiety during this time, your children may interpret short tempers and outward expressions of frustration to be directed at themselves rather than at the situation.
Parents can help circumvent situations in which children load up on self-blame by creating a framework statement that is appropriate to the child's age. For instance, parents might tell six-year-olds that although his or her parents will no longer continue to live together, they will both still love and take care of them. No matter what the child's age, the most important part of the message should be that although the marital situation is changing, the love that both parents have for their children will remain the same.
However, all the words in the world won't make a difference if your actions fail to provide a positive parallel to what you say. Telling the children they are loved and valued no matter what won't mean much if you undermine that with actions putting unnecessary roadblocks up to visitation with the other parent or by making it difficult for the children to maintain contact with the other parent's extended family members.
You should also avoid sharing concerns about finances with the children in the event that the other parent is not fulfilling an obligation to meet child support obligations.
Keep in mind that children have a natural tendency to blame themselves when things don't go right in their worlds. Reassurance from you as well as your soon-to-be ex-spouse that the divorce is not their fault will go a long way toward extinguishing the self-blame they may be feeling, so don't make one-time conversation.
Younger children in particular may need to hear on a consistent basis that the divorce is not their fault. You can also help them adjust to these unfamiliar post-divorce waters by not openly blaming the other parent for the failure of the marriage.
Too Many Changes at Once May Be Overwhelming to Your Children
Along with a tendency to blame themselves when things don't go right, children also have a natural aversion to change. During the divorce process and its immediate aftermath, many people are tempted to give their lives a complete overhaul. They may decide, for instance, to move across town or even across the country.
Minimizing the amount of change in your child's life at this time is recommended. Staying in the same neighborhood provides children with the sense of stability that they need during this time.
Although it's important to maintain old traditions and routines, creating new ones also helps children move past the divorce. The holiday season, for instance, is an excellent time to begin to establish new routines, as is summer vacation and other breaks from school. Making these times fun and memorable will contribute a great deal the healing process of your child or children during and after the divorce.
Keeping Hostility to a Minimum Will Help Children Move on More Quickly
Drawn out divorce proceedings accented by hostility on the side of one or both parents can have long-term negative consequences on the emotional health of children. If you are feeling a significant amount of anger toward your soon-to-be ex-spouse, consider seeking the services of a professional mediator to help the situation progress as smoothly as possible.
Ideally, divorce proceedings should be quick and clean. It may also be in the best interests of your child to speak with a therapist. This may provide the child with the opportunity to express fears, apprehensions, and anxieties in a safe environment.
Although you should always take the time to totally listen to your child, remember that children frequently attempt to shield their parents in stressful situations by withholding thoughts and feelings.
If you would like more information on how to divorce with least possible amount of stress, anxiety, and anger, please feel free to contact Divorce in Peace at a time that is convenient for you. Our blog is also available as a resource for those who are seeking positive answers to their questions concerning navigating the often rough waters of divorce in ways that leave their children happy and healthy.