As adults we sometimes forget how deeply children feel about things. Sometimes we forget what it was like to be child, where problems that seemed frivolous to the adults around us created a deeply stressful situation no matter the subject. The pain and stress of divorce, the division of a union that was to last until “death do us part,” affects everyone, even the initiating party. Often there is blame on both sides of the fence between partners; oftentimes children blame themselves.
The Blame Game
There are various reasons children feel responsible for the break-up of the marriage. This is partially because they feel the situation is out of their control, so they try to invent ways that the marriage could have been saved through things within their control, such as behavior or grades. Sometimes children think that if they had tried to diffuse their parent’s fights that they would not be separating.
It is important for parents to present a united front on the sensitive issues children will have to face. Stress that parents and children, whether living together or apart, share an unbreakable bond that will not change just because the living arrangements are changing. Let the children know that the parent who is moving out of the house, is not moving out of their lives.
Another important thing not to do is blame your spouse or bad mouth him or her to your children. No matter how bitter you may feel, or how earnestly children wish to know the why behind the situation, it is extremely detrimental to a child’s emotional state to have one parent denigrated by the other. This includes what you say to friends and family members in the presence of your child. The child may feel he has to take sides in this dispute, and that cannot happen without severe emotional trauma. To feel that he must choose between the parents he loves is too great of a burden for a child to bear. Parent’s primary responsibility is to protect their children and that includes from their anger and bitterness.
After the Bottom Drops Out
After the initial shock of the news wears off, you will find that your children, despite having asked and been given an answer to their questions, may repeat some or all of those questions. Try to be patient, answer consistently, and stress at all times the child’s lack of blame in the situation. Remember that it is important for both parents to present a united front at all times. You and your ex may be angry and frustrated at one another, but you need to put your children first.
An Emotional Barometer
Even if your kids seem to be doing well and put on a happy face, take time to observe their behavior, assess how they are doing in school, pay attention to their friends, and keep the lines of communication open by approaching your child from time to time with an invitation to talk. Simply ask if there is anything your child would like to talk about, and let him know that you are available, and that no question or concern that they may have is silly or stupid. If your child declines your invitation, accept it, reiterate that you are available whenever, and gently broach the subject periodically. Try to strike a balance between concerned and badgering. If you attempt to force him to open up, you will only drive him deeper into his shell. Being forceful sometimes has the opposite effect. Do your best to validate his concerns and ally his fears.
Divorce is an emotional mine field; even more so when children are involved. Tread as carefully as you can and love them through the rest. It is possible to go through a divorce and arrive emotionally healthy on the other side.