The process of divorce isn’t just stressful for you, it can be very stressful for your children too. To help you get through these struggles, here are some tips to help reduce the pain of divorce for teens, tweens, and tots.
As with the race between the tortoise and the hare, everyone moves forward at their own pace. Each child of divorce will recover differently, making the transition into the new family arrangement one step at a time. Make sure you give your children of divorce time to adjust without pressuring them to hurry up and get to the finish line.
Children of divorce need to know that they can always communicate about their feelings with you, that your door is always open to talk. The parents’ break-up can cause a burdensome sense of loss in children of divorce, along with self-blame, and the blame of parents for ruining things. They’re experiencing a great deal of change with the break-up and they need to talk about what is happening in their lives. Children of divorce will react in some way, often with fear, worry, or anger. You should encourage children of divorce to talk about the good and bad things they are thinking about, or worried about. By doing so, you will have an opportunity to share their feelings, as well as educate, guide, and encourage them toward useful solutions and alternatives. Keeping communication lines open helps during the divorce, so that any hurt feelings and frustrations the child may be experiencing can be diffused early on. An open door to always talk about feelings is also a good approach going forward, after the divorce is final.
You’re the adult and, as difficult as it may be at times, you need to be let children of divorce talk about their feelings without your being emotionally overwhelmed. That does not mean you need to wear a happy mask at all times, but it does mean you should be listening to your children of divorce without unloading your own adult problems. If the divorce has your emotions too raw, consider asking someone else, such as a grandparent, aunt, or pastor, to talk with the your child about what is upsetting them. There are many faith-based organizations that have group programs for children of divorce. These programs offer help and support for families through all aspects of the divorce process.
Frequently, heated discussions or arguments between struggling parents can revolve around their children. What the child is doing. What the child is not doing. The way one parent disciplines the child. The way the other parent doesn’t discipline the child. It is not a surprise, then, that children of divorce often feel they are the root cause of their parents’ problems, and the reason for the divorce. When viewed through the child’s eyes — aren’t they always the subject of debate between their parents? Make sure that children of divorce understand they are not responsible for their parents’ marital problems.
Always be aware of your children’s feelings, even years after the divorce is over. Children of divorce may exhibit problems after two or even three years has passed since the family’s break-up. If the child of divorce is very young, then he or she may not be capable of verbalizing feelings, but may seem depressed or act out inappropriately. If your children are in school, you may note that grades are dropping, classes are skipped, or the child seems disinterested in school activities and after-school activities. If you see these signs, consider investigating age-appropriate counseling.
The more parental conflict the child experiences, the more difficulty the child will have in adjusting to life after divorce. Children of divorce should not be made to feel they have to choose one parent over the other, or take sides in what is really an adult dispute. Children are quick enough to pick up on problems between their parents, they don’t deserve negative reinforcement by one parent against the other. Aside from that, parental alienation is a serious matter and one that a child custody evaluator will be quick to recognize and the family court swift to address. When you are faced with a situation where the other parent has clearly crossed the line of reasonable behavior, you need to remain neutral and factual in any response to your child’s inquiries. Then have a discussion with your family law attorney if, for example, there is a picture of your former spouse on Facebook in a state of drunkenness during his or her parenting time.
The children of divorce are not to be used as homing pigeons to deliver information to you. Do not use your child to deliver messages to the other parent. Do not quiz your child about your ex’s personal life. And do not use your child to spy on the other parent. You want your privacy to be respected, and your former spouse’s privacy should be respected as well. Should your child need to discuss something that occurred while at the other parent’s home, then of course listen. If any action needs to be taken, then discuss the matter further with your family law attorney.
Your child may be resistant to some of the changes that are coming about, and that is to be expected. Give children of divorce time to adjust to two families, just as you need time. If you plan to bring a significant other into your home life, make sure your child has sufficient opportunities to become accustomed to the idea. Remember that there has been a great upheaval in the child’s lifestyle already. Blending your family with another’s or having your significant other move in with you right after the divorce could cause resistance in your child and can delay the child’s adaptation to a new life after divorce. If you do make such a change in your life, keep a close watch on your child’s behavior for any signs that he or she is have problems with the new living arrangements.
You may not feel this way right now, but there are many people out there who really want to help you and your children get through the divorce with the least distress. Encourage children of divorce to develop positive, new relationships in your community. Your family, neighbors, friends, your church, all can help and support you in day-to-day encounters with a post-divorce world if you just give them a chance.
Lastly, make sure that you take time for yourself. Follow good nutritional practices and get the exercise you need to stay healthy and reduce stress. Make sure you get the emotional support you need when you need it, too. If that means professional counseling or group therapy, then take advantage of those services. The stronger and more confident you are, the more capable a parent you will be, and the happier your children will be, too.