Almost half of all children in America will witness the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. While these statistics are staggering, they provide the backdrop for the new familial reality. And this reality is a difficult one, because no matter how old they are, kids will be impacted by this tremendous change in their lives.
As a parent, it’s normal to feel uncertain about how to give your children the right support through a divorce or separation. It may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time — and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
Your patience and reassurance, as well as a listening ear, can minimize the stress children feel as they learn to cope with the new circumstances in their lives. Such a transitional time can’t be without some measure of hardship, but you can powerfully reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority.
Divorce isn’t easy on anyone, but as a parent you can make the process and its effects less painful for your children. While there are a number of helpful books and organizations to turn to, some of the most important things to remember include:
Reassure Them It's Not Their Fault
Let them know that they didn’t cause the divorce. Many kids believe that they had something to do with it, recalling times they argued with their parents, received poor grades, or got in trouble. You can help your kids let go of this misconception. You can’t reassure them of this enough, no matter if they are tots or teenagers.
Don't Criticize Your Ex-Spouse
It’s vital to be honest with your kids, but do so without being critical of your spouse. This can be especially difficult when there have been hurtful events, such as infidelity; but with a little diplomacy, you can avoid playing the blame game. Remember, you are going to be parents together for the rest of your lives. Take the high road. Even if your ex opts for a different route, you can choose to be the mature party in the divorce.
Take It Somewhere Else
Never argue in front of your children, whether it’s in person or over the phone. Ask your ex to talk another time, or drop the conversation altogether. Kids are remarkably perceptive: While you think you may be concealing your sarcasm or anger, they realize that you are upset.
Be Available to Listen
Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay. They will have an easier time working through their feelings if they can talk to you about them.
When kids raise concerns or anxieties, respond truthfully. If you don’t know the answer, say gently that you aren’t sure right now, but you’ll find out and it will be okay.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings. You can also inspire trust by showing that you understand.
While it’s good for kids to learn to be flexible, adjusting to too many new things at once can be very difficult. Help your kids adjust to change by providing as much stability and structure as possible in their daily lives. Remember that establishing structure and continuity doesn’t mean that you need rigid schedules or that Mom’s and Dad’s routines need to be exactly the same. But creating some regular routines at each household and consistently communicating to your children about what to expect will provide your kids with a sense of calm and stability.
Use Caution When Introducing New Partners
Unless you are 100 percent certain that the new person in your life has long-term potential, you shouldn’t introduce him to your children. While there are never guarantees a relationship will work, you need to make sure that this is a serious relationship and that you know him very well and have similar values before involving your children.