Many parents forget their decisions and behaviors can greatly impact the entire family, even if their intent is directed at the soon-to-be ex-spouse. I was once at a conference and one of the clinicians said he asked divorcing parents if they would ever hurt their children. The parents unsurprisingly responded they would not. His response was, “Then why would you put them in the middle of a knife fight?” What the clinician was implying is sometimes we don't realize we are putting others in difficult and often hurtful situations.
I will say this, if one or both parents are being suggestive or are doing things that are confusing and irritating to the children (e.g., bringing "friends" to the house or secretly talking on the phone), then have the conversation sooner than later. The more clarity regarding the family status, the better.
Divorce is a loss, a family is being torn apart. It's hard, even if it's a relief. Here are some tips to make the divorce process less difficult for the children.
Tell them together. You and your spouse probably aren't on the best of terms, but it is important to find a way to tell your children together. It's hard enough to hear it once, don't make your kids experience the divorce conversation twice, if possible.
The same message. Telling your children together ensures that each parent is saying the same thing. I highly encourage parents to meet together without the children first to make sure their message is the same.
Now I know some may think this is unfair, especially if one person feels they have been wronged (e.g., infidelity). That's an issue between mom and dad, and something that the kids shouldn't have to worry about. You have to remember that your ex is still a parent.
Maintain healthy boundaries. Your children aren't your therapists. They aren't messengers. They are your kids, let them be kids. If they are adamant and ask what happened or who was at fault, you can say it's something between mom and dad. Stay away from statements like, "Don't ask me, I didn't do anything wrong", that suggest blame is exclusive to one person
Be emotionally available. Make sure your children know that they can come and express any feelings now or in the future about the divorce. Whether it's anger, sadness, relief, or happiness, the parents should be available for support or just to listen.
It's not your fault. This is what you should be saying to your children. This is a grown-up issue and many times children will feel like they did something to break up the family. You have to make sure your children know the divorce has nothing to do with the them.
If you could go back in time, would you do it all over again?. The correct answer is yes. If anything, make sure your children know that you wouldn't change the relationship because the marriage led to them. Also, don't swear off future relationships or marriage in general. I've heard many kids say they never want to get married because of what the parents say about marriage.
Find support throughout the divorce process. If you want to be a good parent during this stressful time, you have to take care of yourself. That may mean leaning even more so on a friend, family member, or professional.
You might want to consider therapy for your child(ren) as well, even if they seem to be managing life well. Therapy can provide a consistent, safe space to decompress and process feelings related to the divorce and family.
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