According to a survey conducted by OnlineDivorce.com in Louisiana, about half of all children are witnesses to the breakdown of their parents’ marriage.
Cooperating with Melinda Adams, a divorce coach based in New Orleans, Online Divorce has prepared the answers to burning issues that currently concern many parents as well as some main tips on how parents can tell kids about their decision to break up.
It is inevitable that divorce will affect children, no matter how hard we try to believe otherwise. This situation changes the course of events that are most familiar to them, and it would be unusual if they did not react to it in any way. The only question is how well the child will meet the changes. And this largely depends on how we tell them about what is happening.
Sometimes, to maintain a semblance of calm in the family, parents do not tell children about their problems at all. For example, they lie and say that dad has a lot of work, and therefore he is always on business trips or spends nights in the office. On the one hand, the situation between the spouses may settle and get better with time, so there is no point in bothering the child. But on the other hand, the child will certainly feel the tension in the family and could become more worried than necessary.
At the other extreme, the situation could result in the children knowing all the nuances of the conflict if it is occurring right in front of their eyes. Sometimes one of the parents recruits the child to their side and uses the child to manipulate the partner. Pulling a child too deep into the conflict could make them feel guilty when the separation does occur, because they feel like it could have been prevented or that they are to blame. Such a psychological burden is excessive, and is unfair to the child. Adults must resolve the conflict by themselves.
“I have not yet seen a single child who could easily deal with parents’ divorce. But I saw a lot of parents who think that the divorce did not affect the children in any way and that the children did not notice the changes at all,” says Melinda Adams. Usually, in such cases, children are brought to a therapist due to poor academic performance or behavior, aggression, and somatic symptoms, which are often the consequences of the separation of mom and dad.
- The news of divorce often becomes a shock for the child, so the conversation should be carried out in a calm, safe, and comfortable environment. If the child is more attached to one of the parents, it is he or she who can tell the news. If the relationship of the divorcing parents allows for a quiet joint conversation with mom and dad informing the child of their decision together, this option is preferred.
- The child needs to be informed about the upcoming changes in the family only when this decision is already made and final. If you are still not entirely sure, you should not “prepare the child” for the possibility of a separation. For example, after the phrase “Your father and I are thinking of breaking up, but we have not decided yet,” the child’s life turns into torture.
- Make sure that the conversation does not take place on a school day so that the child has enough time to digest the information in the presence of loved ones. It is essential that after this news, he or she is not left alone at home. Also, do not start such a conversation right before going to bed, thereby ensuring a sleepless night for the child.
- Do not avoid the word “divorce.” That is what is happening in your family right now. If the child is too young and does not understand the meaning of the word, use it anyway and then explain what it means.
- After you have reported the news, tell the child what will happen to him or her (the change of home or school, etc.). Try to keep it brief, without going into too many details. At this stage, some basic information is sufficient.
- During a divorce, it is especially important to give your child the opportunity to stay in close contact with both parents. Do not force your son or daughter to choose one of you and take sides. Do not make your child feel like if they treat your ex-spouse well it will be a kind of a betrayal to you.
Most children want a stable, close relationship with both parents and love you both, despite your weaknesses and mistakes. The best thing you can do for your child is to recognize his or her right to have special feelings for your former spouse. The child’s feelings do not have to coincide with yours.
- If you suddenly mention that, in fact, only one parent wants to get a divorce, while the second does not, you will open up a pandora’s box. Logically, the child will quickly take the side of the parent who wants the family to stay together, and begin to try to convince the initiator of the divorce to change their mind. The child may identify with the abandoned partner and share his or her feelings towards the initiator of the breakup.
To avoid additional difficulties, it is better to tell the children about divorce as soon as everything becomes completely clear. The information should be the most general: “Sometimes adults do not want to live together, and we have both decided to live separately.” It is important to emphasize that this happened because of the relationship between mom and dad, and the child has nothing to do with it. The respectful attitude of the parents towards each other, and their reassurance that no matter what the circumstances, they will always love their child, will help the child to adapt to the new situation faster.