8 Tips for Preparing Your Children for Your Divorce
Divorce is rarely a painless process. However, when your divorce involves children, it is important to remove as much of the negative element of surprise that a divorce can have for them in order to protect their emotional health and their relationship with both parents during the process. This requires most people to increase the amount of positive communication they have about the process, with their spouse as well as their children. Here are eight tips for preparing your children for your divorce.
1. Plan the Conversation in Advance
When should you tell your children about your divorce? Experts say that it is generally best to wait until you are actually in the process. Many parents make the mistake of thinking that they should begin preparing the child as soon as the mere discussion of divorce is being had. However, couples can and do change their minds about divorcing, and doing so after you have told the children can create confusion.
Choose a time when there are few distractions. Televisions and phones should be off. You should ensure that you have nothing planned after the conversation so that you can give the conversation as much time as it needs.
Your divorce is going to bring big changes to all of your family, including your child. It makes sense that the discussion in which you tell your children about the divorce involves all of the family and that everyone has the chance to participate in the discussion. You and your spouse should plan the conversation in advance so that you know going into it that you are on the same page as to the information that is going to be shared.
2. Prepare for Their Reaction… And for That Reaction to Change
Children often don’t react to the news of their parent’s divorce the way their parents think they will. The child that you thought would be devastated might actually be looking forward to a new bedroom in a new house. The child you thought would be understanding may lash out angrily. In truth, any reaction can be handled, as long as you have the information you need. You should be sure — starting with the very first discussion you have with your child about your divorce — that you ask your child how he or she is feeling about the divorce and if there are any concerns he or she would like to discuss. Keep that door open and reassure your child that his or her other parent is also available to talk to about the divorce.
Understand that the reaction your child has upon initially hearing about the divorce is likely not how he or she will continue to feel. It is not unusual for children to go back and forth between feeling angry, sad, confused, and excited about the changes too.
3. Help Your Child Understand that They Aren’t Responsible
Children, particularly those who are younger, tend to blame themselves for the divorce and think that if their behavior had been better, it would not have happened. It is important to reassure your child regularly that they are not responsible for the divorce and that both parents love them as much as ever.
4. Explain What Is Going to Change (And What Will Stay the Same)
Children thrive on routine. Obviously, with the divorce, the routine they have had will change dramatically. It is often easier for a child to accept a new situation if they aren’t going into it blind, but instead are armed with information about the parts of their routine that will change. Equally important is to let your child know the parts of their routine that will stay the same, as these elements will often give a child a sense of security during the early days of the divorce.
5. Understand that the Break-Up Might Not Be Their Biggest Concern
Often, children do not have the developmental ability to understand all aspects of a divorce or to even completely grasp the concept of what marriage is or what it means when it ends. They do, however, understand the idea of going to a different school or living on a different street away from the friends they like to play with. Do not be surprised if your child is far more concerned about where he or she will be attending school or which parental home the dog will be living at than he or she is about your divorce.
6. Make Sure They Understand They Don’t Have to Choose
You have probably heard the advice before: Don’t talk badly about your ex-spouse to your child. The advice is sound, as children who are placed in the middle of arguing parents will often feel like they’re betraying one parent if they enjoy time with or talk about the other. It is important to support your child’s relationship with their other parent and to do what you can to ensure that the connection of your child to his or her other parent remains strong.
7. Keep Talking About the Process as a Family
The first conversation you have with your children about your divorce should not be the last conversation you have about it. Nor should it be the last conversation you have all together as a family. A divorce means the end of your marriage, but it does not have to mean the end of your family or your ability to talk about issues together that affect your entire family.
Many divorced parents spend time together as a family with their children, even including new spouses into the mix as time goes by. If you aren’t at a point in your life where you are able to do this, simply leave the door open for the possibility in the future.
8. Resolve Parenting Schedules Before Anything Else
One of the many aspects that will have to be decided in your divorce is your parenting time schedule. This includes not only who the child will primarily live with and how many nights each parent has with the child each week, but also who takes the child to soccer practice or who picks the child up from school. To your child, these are the most important aspects of all. Resolve those issues first so you can give your child the security of a schedule and the quick opportunity to develop a routine.
Divorce is never easy, either for parents or children. However, with preparation, communication, and the desire to work together to make the process as clear and clean as possible for your children goes a long way in helping them to accept the reality of the situation. For more information about divorcing with children, contact Betsy A. Fischer online or by calling 504-780-8232.