Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, but it can be particularly difficult for children. Children often don’t understand what is happening and feel powerless. While divorce is difficult, there are simple steps that parents can take to help their children grow stronger, more resilient and balanced while parents go through divorce.
These tips are for both parents. However, realize that you don’t have control over the other parent’s behavior. You do have control over your behavior. Regardless of the other parent’s choices, you can choose to do what is best for your child and these tips will help.
1. Your child should feel loved and welcome in both homes
From the very beginning of the divorce process, parents need to reassure the child that they are loved and nothing will change that. Your child needs to be reassured that you’ll never “divorce” them or stop loving them. Reassure your child that in no way is she responsible for the divorce. Reassurance needs to be given again and again and again.
Your child should understand that he now has two homes and that both are his home. He doesn’t live with one parent and “visit” the other. Your child lives with each parent in each home. Make sure your child has his own space in each home. Having a separate room isn’t always possible, but have a designated space that is always his space.
2. Both parents should make it a priority to spend time with the child
Your child needs both quality and quantity time. Make the time to be with your child. Your time may be stretched thin and it may be complicated to get together with your child, but make it happen. Your child needs to spend time with you and to be able to rely on you.
Always keep dates you’ve made with your child. Don’t allow anything to interfere with time you’ve scheduled with him. He is already feeling shaky and insecure, and canceling on your child will only make him feel more anxious and insecure. Additionally, don’t be late to meet your child. Your child needs stability and dependable parents right now. Be that parent for your child.
3. Your child should be encouraged to love both parents and spend time with both parents
Allow your child to love the other parent. Acknowledge and support your child’s love for the other parent.
Allow and support your child in spending time with the other parent. Do not allow your own insecurities to make you feel jealous or make your child feel guilty.
In addition to encouraging your child to maintain her relationship with the other parent, encourage her relationship with the other grandparents and extended family. These relationships are important to your child and should not be severed as a result of your divorce.
4. Both parents should commit to keeping the child out of all disagreements and fights
The divorce is between you and the other parent. Your child should not be involved in any disagreements, arguments or fights.
Do not have your child be a messenger between you and the other parent. That puts her in a difficult position. She may worry about the other parent’s reaction to the message. If your child forgets to tell the other parent the message, you’ve just put her in the situation to feel responsible for whatever frustration and anger results. You need to be the adult and communicate with the other parent. Let your child be a child.
Never talk badly about the other parent when your child is around. Any complaints you make about the other parent will be perceived as negative about your child since she is 50 percent you and 50 percent the other parent.
Don’t make your child feel she has to take a side by blaming, complaining or speaking badly of the other parent in front of your child. Be very careful saying anything about the other parent if your child is in the same room or even building as you are. They have an uncanny ability to hear exactly what you don’t want them to hear, so don’t risk it.
5. Both parents should commit to long-term support of the child.
Your child is your child for life. You are not divorcing your child. Your child deserves your support for his entire life. That means that you offer him love, encouragement, advice, parenting, your time and financial support. Divorce usually puts a strain on both parents’ finances, but that doesn’t mean that your child should suffer. Financial support doesn’t mean purchasing big flashy gifts or vacations. Financial support means supporting your children’s needs and education from the time of the divorce until your child is an adult. New relationships and a new family do not terminate your responsibility to care for and support your child.
6. Separate your needs from your child’s needs.
Take the time to learn about your child’s developmental stage and behavioral expectations for that age. Also, take the time to learn about the feelings and behavior you can expect your child to display as a result of the stress of divorce. This knowledge will help you understand how to best support your child, to identify appropriate — or expected — behavior and inappropriate behavior, discipline inappropriate behavior and seek help when needed. Patience, consistency and understanding are what your child needs most from you.
Listen to your child when she want to talk. Some children may need gentle encouragement to talk about feelings. Help your child understand that feelings are okay. There are not good or bad, right or wrong feelings. What we choose to do with feelings is a different matter. Help your child learn acceptable ways to express feelings and not act out. Let your child know that she can tell you about any feelings she has and you will support her.
You will need your own support as you go through divorce. You need to find friends and family to give you support through this difficult time. You deserve to have people around you who care for you, support you and can listen to you. It’s important to turn to other adults for that support and not your child. Your child needs to be your child, not your confidant, for your child’s well-being and your own.
There are quality books and DVDs for children experiencing divorce. They are available at your local library and your school counselor should be able to recommend resources. Use these resources to help your child understand what she’s experiencing and to open up and talk to you as she needs to. There are also excellent resources available for adults experiencing divorce that you should take advantage of at your local library.
Your child needs you to be her parent. No matter what you’re experiencing, she needs you.
7. Seek professional help when needed.
It’s very possible that you or your child may need professional help during the divorce process. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Your child may need objective and knowledgeable support going through the divorce process. You can talk with a school counselor for recommendations of community resources. If finances are an issue, the school counselor will be aware of financial aid or no-cost support groups and resources.
You may need to seek professional support for yourself. Do so immediately. You need to be strong and healthy for yourself; your child needs a strong, healthy parent. You both deserve the best you you can be.
You may find that a divorce support group is just what you and your child need for encouragement. Many communities have resources for families going through divorce. Take advantage of the support of these types of resources.
Divorce will bring changes to each member of your family. Invest the time and energy to help your child (and yourself) grow through divorce. You are both stronger and more resilient than you know. With support, time and love, you will come through this difficult time of divorce together, as a new kind of family.