Divorce is quite common and it’s estimated that 50% of American children will experience the separation of their parents, according to The Spruce. If you are currently going through a divorce, this can be a difficult event for your child to navigate. It’s going to be a confusing and frustrating time for your child, no matter how amicable the separation may be. The truth is, a divorce can have long-term effects on a child’s emotional and behavioral development, but there are ways you can facilitate the experience of adjusting to a new family dynamic.
Tell your child about the divorce together and be honest.
You might be tempted to let them figure it out on their own, or let your ex-spouse be the one to break the news, but it’s important for your child to get clear and honest information from both parents. From your child’s perspective, it will reinforce the idea that they can trust their parents to be honest during this time and not rely on overheard information or rumors to understand what’s happened. Obviously you’ll want to spare the more personal or explicit details of the uncoupling, but for the most part, you should be honest about what your child should expect moving forward. Details such as living situations, visitations, and communication between both parents should be clearly defined to the child once the arrangements have been worked out during the divorce process.
Make sure parental roles and responsibilities are divided and reinforced.
One of the things that will be determined in the divorce process is who will have primary custody of the child. There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about a child’s life including but not limited to healthcare, safety, overall welfare, religion, and education. In most instances, both parents share joint legal custody of the child. However, only one parent will have physical custody.
If you don’t have physical custody, take the initiative to find a way play a key role in your child’s life such as being the one to teach them how to drive or always attending their after-school sporting events. If you have physical custody, be aware that your ex-spouse will need you to support them as they try to find new roles in your children’s life. It’s also important to note even the parent with physical custody should still create a role in your child’s life beyond primary guardian.
Encourage your child to talk about the divorce, but don’t pressure them to open up.
Most children find it difficult to talk about their parents’ divorce, and that may turn into a larger problem if they can’t effectively talk about their feelings. Children feel uncomfortable discussing the divorce with their parents because neither parent can give an unbiased perspective on the situation. Give them gentle encouragement to open up to you about their feelings. In the event that they do open up, do your best to be there for your child without showing bias or encouraging them to take sides. If you’re finding it difficult or notice that your child has a change in behavior, perhaps a third party perspective like a family friend or a therapist would be a good resource for your child. Many schools have programs for childrens whose parents are going through a divorce.
Don’t fight around them.
If your marriage is on the verge of collapsing, then this might seem difficult, but having daily arguments echoing through your home can be traumatizing for your child’s emotional development. Try if possible to move disputes down the block, in a car, or generally away from anywhere a child may eavesdrop upon the exchange of some scathing words. If it’s impossible to completely step away, come to an agreement to de-escalate arguments in the presence of your child.
Don’t make your child a mediator between you and your ex-spouse.
This is something that’s quite small and seemingly innocuous but has big implications for how your child sees themselves in the middle of the divorce. Using your child as the point of contact between you and your ex (ie, “Tell your father to…” or “Let your mother know…”) can feel like an unwanted responsibility and can sometimes let them in on some information they shouldn’t be privy to. Moreover, this may be an unconscious way for parents to unload their feelings onto their child, making them carry the weight of your emotional issues with your soon to be ex-spouse. Your child should not be used as a resource when there are other third-party resources available to you and your ex-spouse.
Take care of yourselves, and make sure there are safe spaces to visit each parent.
Older children will notice when hard times drive their parents to unhealthy behavior. This can cause children to become distant, or reinforce the idea that the divorce might have been their fault. It’s important to reassure your child that you, and them, will be okay. Younger children will have a harder time adjusting to a new familial structure if their surroundings are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. If you feel your new living space isn’t ideal for visitation, opt for familiar public spaces like a neighborhood park or their favorite diner. Over time, it’ll get easier for both you and your child to navigate this new lifestyle and will find peace of mind knowing you’ve made good decisions for yourself and your child.
Going through a divorce is a very difficult thing to do not only for you but also for your children. These six tips can hopefully make the process easier for your children but also for you. If you need legal assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to any of our divorce lawyers. We are here for you to help you through this trying time in your life.