(1) Tell Your Children:
Children are observant. Even though you may not have told them about the divorce, they usually can sense when something isn’t quite right between their parents. If one of you starts sleeping on the sofa, if the two of you argue often, or if you barely speak to each other, the children become anxious because they fear that your marriage is on the brink of collapsing.
Therefore, once both of you have agreed to get divorced, it is especially important that both of you tell the children. How you handle this step will set the foundation for how well your children cope with and adjust to your divorce.
It is crucial that both you and your spouse tell the children about the divorce together. This will demonstrate to your children that you can cooperate with each other in a calm and respectful manner, thus reassuring the children that they will not be “caught in the middle” between their parents. Emphasize that both of you made the decision to divorce, that no one–including the children–is to blame for the divorce. These statements will reassure the children that they do not have to take sides with one parent against the other (neither of you is either a “victim” or a “villain”), nor do they have to feel guilty that they somehow caused the divorce. Also, let the children know that your decision is final, so that the children will neither hold onto false hopes of reconciliation, nor feel compelled to try to save your marriage.
At this stage in the process, the children need reassurance that both of you will still love them, and that their lives will not fall apart because of the divorce. If possible before this meeting, determine where each of you will live, and let the children know so that they do not worry that they suddenly will be homeless. Focus on the divorce as a change in their lives, and not so much a loss. For more information, go to: Telling Your Children About Your Divorce.
(2) Help Your Children to Accept and Adjust
Once you have told the children of your divorce, your children will likely be concerned and uncertain about their future, so what they need more than anything is stability. Therefore, to the extent possible, minimize major changes in your children’s lives: keep the family home, and keep the children in the same schools and the same extra-curricular activities, at least until the end of the current school year.
As parents, maintain the same respectful and cooperative relationship that both of you modeled when you met as a family to tell the children of your divorce. Try not to argue with, or
criticize, each other, especially if the children can hear or see you. Keep adult issues between the two of you so that your children are not caught in the middle of your divorce.
Your children are already upset that their parents are splitting up, so don’t aggravate the situation by introducing your children to any new dates or significant others–try to wait at least six months after the divorce has been finalized. Otherwise, your children might resent both you and this new person for presumably breaking up your marriage, thus straining your relationship with your children while leading the children to “protect” their other parent whom they fear is going to be replaced by this new person.
Be a good listener; encourage your children to freely express their thoughts and feelings. Answer their questions honestly without expressing anger, hurt or criticism towards either your children or their other parent. Encourage your children to speak with a third party about their feelings–have them join a divorce support group, which are offered by both schools and places of worship; have them speak with a school counselor, therapist or other person qualified to listen to and guide your children. For more information, go to: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Divorce.
(3) Co-Parent after Divorce
As long as you have followed the suggestions above, you have succeeded in helping your children through the process of your divorce. However, your toughest challenge lies ahead: co-parenting with your former spouse. Co-parenting is most challenging until the children graduate from high school, but you still have to co-parent to some extent (graduations, weddings, births, deaths, etc.) for many years to come.
After their divorce has been finalized, most couples still harbor feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, distrust and resentment. While these feelings are normal, you cannot let them interfere with your co-parenting relationship. Therefore, the first thing you must do to help your children live happily and successfully after the divorce is to consciously separate your spousal and parental roles. Your issues with your former spouse are your issues, not your children’s. Keeping in mind that children need both parents consistently in their lives, put aside your spousal role and focus on your parenting role when dealing with your co-parent. Individual therapy can help you to deal with your negative feelings so that you can more effectively co-parent with your former spouse, and move on with your life.
In order to focus on your co-parenting relationship, you must support your children’s relationship with their other parent. Honor the terms of your divorce agreement, especially with respect to parenting schedules, child support, and sharing the cost of the children’s other expenses. Encourage your children’s relationship with their other parent; do not criticize the other parent in front of the children. Be flexible with the parenting plan–accommodate the other parent’s family events; other special occasions; work obligations; and health issues. Communicate regularly with your co-parent so that you can both share information about such subjects as school; extra-curricular activities and events; and children’s health issues.
In short, focus on what’s best for the children, and not on your negative feelings towards the other parent. By keeping the children “out of the middle” of adult issues, the children will feel safe and loved, and will, in turn, be free to love both of their parents, and not feel pressure to choose one parent over the other. For more information, go to: How to Co-Parent after Your Divorce.