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Helping kids understand divorce

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Lost aunts and uncles

You may think that if you have a strong marriage you don't need to talk to your kids about divorce and what it means. That's not quite true. Divorce will likely touch your child in some way, and likely within the family, and they need guidance from you on how to navigate the change in family dynamic. Even if you don't "believe" in divorce, divorce happens.

Mom and tween talking

Divorces are hard on everyone and can be confusing for kids. Even if the end of the relationship is a positive step in many ways, it can be hard for kids to grasp why someone they have had a relationship with and maybe even loved is suddenly gone. As in, why is Aunt Susie or Uncle George suddenly not "Aunt" or "Uncle" anymore and why is a new person in their place?

Not your child's fault

It can be very confusing for kids, especially younger kids, when a loved family member is suddenly gone, and without saying goodbye. People your child has known literally all his or her life can vanish with a poof. Remember that your child's psyche isn't fully developed and cannot understand the nuances and dynamics of a failing relationship; instead they may just think they did something to cause the person to leave, that they weren't nice enough or some other (to us) illogical thought pattern.

Your kids need to be reassured that they did nothing wrong. The aunt or uncle or whomever they considered part of their family is no longer there because of nothing relating to them.

Reassurance and space for feelings

When divorce happens in the family, kids also may need some reassurance about their nuclear family unit. You may not be able to say with certainty that divorce will never happen in your marriage, but you can reassure your child that they will always be loved and taken care of and respected, and that some love transcends marriage.

In this time of reassurance you can also make space for whatever else your child may be feeling. Your child may feel angry or extremely sad or any combination of a host of feelings. It may even be grief at the lost relationship.

Whatever those feelings are, your child needs help sorting through them - and continued reassurance of the strength of their immediate family.

Maintaining a relationship

If a soon-to-be former relative was particularly close, you may choose to maintain a relationship with him or her. Depending on the greater family dynamic, that may be OK -- or not so OK. If a soon-to-be ex-aunt was also a godmother or served some other distinct and unique role in your child's life, navigating the greater family dynamic may be worth the effort for the sake of your child. Only you can really make that determination.

No matter why a divorce happens in your extended family, and even if your marriage is as strong as can be, helping your child understand and process divorce can be challenging. With patience and understanding, though, you'll all get through it.

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