Living in today’s world, one can only be realistic in knowing that despite the best of efforts, sometimes families fall apart. And when they do, and parents divorce – it is often the children that are left to clean up the pieces of the life they knew and rebuild. Divorce among couples with children can be so difficult because not only are the adults going through a phase of discomfort, grief, and uncertainty – but the children are as well. This makes it difficult for mom and dad to always be there to say the right things to their child so that the kids feel safe. And, this is okay. You need to give yourself a break – and realize that time will help to heal the wounds of divorce that are inflicted upon you and your children.
Eventually, at some point – your child will say the 5 little words that will break your heart. “When is daddy coming home?” “Why isn’t daddy there, where is he sleeping? When will he come and eat dinner with us, or help me finish my fort in the backyard?” Even though you thought you explained the whole thing to your child, the reality of living as separate families in separate homes can be heartbreaking for your child to endure. So often, it is the kids that are caught in the middle of a divorce. This is often why so many couples just stay in unhappy marriages until their children are older hoping that they will never have to answer such painful questions as these from their children.
A study performed at the University of Utah by child psychologists and sociologist interviewed thousands of children from broken families. In the study, they came up with many strategies for parents to keep in mind when discussing divorce with the kids. And the one message that remained clear was that honesty, from the beginning, was the very best policy!
Among the thousands of children interviewed, around 80% said they knew that their family was having trouble long before the actual news of the divorce was delivered. Most of the time parents deliberate and argue divorce behind closed doors, in what they think is an environment that shelters the children. But children know when something is amuck.
This is why it is so important to be as honest as possible as soon as possible. The experts said that the actual moment that children were told about the divorce was the most memorable moment for the kids. They suggest that gathering the family together as whole, reining in parental emotions in the moment and having a family discussion that includes ALL the members (even the youngest) of the family is critical. When parents reach this point, they should have some sort of framework in mind of what is going to happen because kids will have a lot of questions about their future. If these questions and worries go unanswered – the kid’s lives can be turned upside down. So step one, is to tell your family together as a united front – even if it is the last united thing the two of you do as parents.
Then, open the floor. Tell them as much as you know about living arrangements and where the kids will be. Talk to them about schools, and grandparents and homes. Talk to them about what will change, and what will stay the same. Additionally, the experts believe that parents should do their very best to deal with the reactions of their children. Many parents are surprised to find out that their kids are actually happy about the divorce, which will bring an end to the familial discomfort that they have been feeling for weeks, months, or years. Other kids are sad. And most kids feel a combination of both. It is important that parents don’t automatically assume how their kids will react, and inflict words such as, “I know this is painful,” or “I know you will be sad,” when delivering the news. Instead, let your children’s reactions be their own – and deal with them.
When you handle the divorce in this manner – the children will be less likely to ask confusing questions such as “When is Daddy coming home,” or “Why is mommy not taking us to school?” You will arm them with a routine, and a list of things to expect and they will understand from the beginning what the divorce means to them.
The most automatic response for parents is to shield children from pain. When it comes to a divorce, a separation among the family – a new routine, a new life, it is nearly impossible to do so. Refrain from blaming one another and instead turn your focus into making the new family arrangements as positive as possible. Sure, this can be difficult – but according to the kids who have been through this with their parents – this is the very best way to prepare them emotionally and make the process as painless as possible for them.
A divorce doesn’t have to be a negative thing for a child. When parents act maturely and swiftly, and set aside their own pain in order to deliver accurate messages to their children – the kids can adapt quite well in the long run. If there is a question or concern that your children have that you don’t have the answers for, then try to ease your child’s mind by getting their input and asking them what they want.