Divorcing parents face the daunting task of dealing with their children’s pain and anxiety along with their own emotional struggles during divorce. Even where parents have opted for a collaborative divorce and are working towards keeping things civil, this is still a difficult transition, especially for their children. The following are suggestions on how to handle some of the most common situations that parents face during this process.
How to tell the children
A recommended approach is for both parents to tell the children together without assigning any blame for the decision to separate. Your goal is to answer their questions directly, succinctly, and honestly, and to assure your children that both parents will always love them. You may want to let the children know that they have a home with each parent, so, essentially, they will have two homes. Despite the changes, many things will stay the same – they will still be able to visit their grandparents, have sleep-overs with their friends and, perhaps, remain in the same school.
The "new home"
A recommended approach is to take the children to see the new home or, if the marital home is being sold, to see both homes. Your goal is to make this stressful transition as easy as possible. With small children, you can replicate their environment with the acquisition of similar, if not identical, bedding, toys and computer games. Possessions such as security blankets and stuffed animals can go back and forth with the children. They can have play clothes and toiletries at both homes so that they don’t have to remember to bring their toothbrushes and socks. Parents can take responsibility to insure that certain items are included in the belongings that accompany the child, such as school books, homework assignments, uniforms, etc.
Pick-ups and drop-offs – A recommended approach is to share the transportation. Your goal is to make these exchanges as pleasant and non-threatening as possible. Each parent should deliver the children to the other so that the children are not being removed from a place or activity they are enjoying by the parent who has come to pick them up. This also allows the children to see that the parent is supportive of the child going to the other parent and the children will not associate leaving as a time of tension between the parents.
It is highly recommended that parents keep the children out of the middle and shelter them from the emotional upheaval being experienced. Your goal is to send messages to the children that you and your spouse are working together to be the best parents you can for their sake. Despite all the emotions experienced during divorce, high conflict between parents is the most damaging to children. They do not need to witness angry exchanges or contemptuous attitudes and behaviors. Children report that they can tell the level of conflict from one end of a phone conversation they overhear. Find a way to be civil in all your interactions with each other when children are present.
It is recommended that you express to your children that the unhappiness between their parents is not about them. Your goal is to reassure your children continually that you both still love them and for the children to feel loved by all family members. It is very common for children to believe that "if only" they had done something differently, this problem would never have occurred. At no time will you ever want to imply that their other parent no longer cares for them or would prefer not to have them around. It is also important to discourage the children’s extended family from speaking negatively about either parent around the children.
Encourage a positive and healthy parent-child relationship
– A recommended approach is for both parents to maintain frequent telephone contact and to spend time with children in routine parent-child interactions. Your goal is to enable your children to interact with both parents on a routine basis and to celebrate significant occasions without having to worry about a scene or confrontation between them. Being considerate of each other’s plans when scheduling things will help achieve this. Significant activities, such as graduations or school events, will naturally need to be shared events.
Maintain normalcy as much as possible
It is recommended that the children’s routines not be radically altered by your life decisions. Your goal is for the children to feel the security that a degree of normalcy offers. Relationships can be maintained, the children may be able to continue to attend the same school, and activities in which they regularly participate do not need to be unnecessarily affected. Any decisions involving visitation schedules should take the children’s schedule and activities into account.
These are just a few of the situations divorcing parents face. While it is impossible to list them all, it is important to focus on your children’s long term emotional well-being during this difficult time and to make this transition as easy as possible on them.