5 Tips to Prepare Your Child for Your Divorce - Divorce Help
Adults, kids and teens all perceive divorce differently. No matter what age, your child will have a limited ability to understand what is happening and what is yet to come – from the reasons for the dissolution, to the expected consequences and the way each family member is anticipated to foster relationships with each other. It’s important for divorcing parents to understand their child’s perception in order to help them through the process of their divorce.
1. Knowing When to Break the News
Even when you try to shade your child from troubles and obstacles in your marriage, he or she has likely picked up on the tension. Once the decision to dissolve your marriage has been finalized, there is no longer a reason to leave your child in the dark. In fact, if you hold off there’s a chance that they will find out on their own and feel deceived and betrayed.
According to a Gallup poll, 71% of teenagers believe that their divorcing parents should have tried harder to make their marriage work. Telling your child early on will allow you the opportunity to explain your reasons for dissolving your marriage. This will also give you the chance to get across the fact that there is zero possibility of the two of you working it out. Unless it is explicitly laid out for them, kids will always have the idea that things will change and go back to the way they were. Crushing the “Parent Trap” fantasy is a key step to establishing a child’s acceptance of the separation.
2. Why is This Happening?
Kids are intrinsically self-centered. They rarely understand that their role has been irrelevant in their parents’ decision to divorce. Most kids and teens think that if only they had gotten A’s instead of B’s on their report card, responded better to discipline or had behaved in a way that might have prevented parents from arguing or taking sides, there would be no marriage issues and no chance of divorce.
When parents call it quits, children of all ages tend to endure some level of guilt and anxiety. Guilt and shame are often paired with feelings of resentment, anger, abandonment and sadness – this emotional roller-coaster can leave kids feeling lost, confused and often rebellious. It’s important for parents to not only reassure kids that the divorce is not their fault, but to explain that it doesn’t even have anything to do with them.
The divorce isn’t about splitting up the entire family, but only about issues between each parent that couldn’t be resolved. Explain to your child that although you are all in this situation together and will support each other through this hard time, the decision to divorce was made solely because you and your spouse could no longer make things work.
3. How Much Information to Divulge
Explain that the reasons for the divorce are strictly between you and your spouse, but keep in mind the child’s age and relationship with each parent. Be sure not to divulge too much information – sometimes when parents air their dirty laundry, their child blames one parent and carries resentment with them not only at the time of the divorce, but in the long term. Sometimes parents unknowingly trash their spouse and try to get their teen on “their side,” alienating them from the other parent. Although it is important for your child to understand logistical information about your divorce, and even some of the things that led to the ultimate decision, the gruesome details can be omitted.
While spilling the beans may sound tempting in an ugly divorce, parents must always refrain from badmouthing their ex. One of the most important parts of preparing children for a divorce is letting them know that you always are there for support, and will always want them to be able to foster a good, healthy relationship with the other parent. Divorce is easiest when both parents can cooperate, be mutually supportive, co-parent and mask any bitterness they have about one another. Remain honest, but exercise restraint.
4. Explaining the Changes that are to Come – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
While it’s natural to want to protect your child from the unwanted changes that are sure to result from your divorce, it’s important that kids and teens aren’t blindsided by them when they do develop.
Explain both the positive and negative changes that will affect your child. Not having mom and dad live together will already be a tough pill to swallow, so playing a supportive role in explaining other changes in your lives will be a necessity. Parents should keep in mind that boys have a greater tendency of exhibiting high levels of poor adjustment post-divorce than girls, and to handle them delicately.
Moving is the number one correctional factor between poor adolescent adjustment and divorce. Other examples of common things in a divorce that affect children’s day to day lives include changing schools, spending time with each parent separately, scheduling modifications, money matters, financial strain and adjustments in what is affordable, and changes in one or both parents’ jobs or working hours.
When preparing your child for the changes that are sure to come, be sure to shed light on the positive changes. This could mean less fighting at home, more quality time with each parent and a greater bond between siblings who join to understand the divorce together.
5. Preparing for your Child’s Future
Divorce can affect the way your child behaves socially, perceives romantic relationships and acts out in rebellion. He or she may experience strong emotions and have sudden outbursts at home and at school. Divorce can also impact your teen’s view on marriage and leave him or her with a negative outlook on the longevity of romantic relationships. If your openness, love and support aren’t enough to keep your child emotionally stable during this process, you may consider the involvement of a doctor or therapist who can use their trained knowledge to help your child manage.