A lot of couples stay in an unhappy marriage for the sake of their kids. But when the inevitable divorce does happen, it can be extremely depressing and confusing time for the kids involved and they may feel shocked or angry at the prospect of their parents splitting up.
As a divorcee, I experienced this when my young children asks me difficult questions like why “daddy and mommy aren’t talking”.
It is difficult initially and this can go on for the first few years. However, it starts to get better and once the kids get used to it, and life starts to pick up again.
I can’t list everything on how to help your kids in a divorce, but i can provide the important points that you can use to dampen the effects of the divorce on your children. I’ve learnt a lot through my own divorce and I hope some of these may be helpful to you.
1. Always show that you care and love them
During the stressful divorce period, even if you are not talking to your partner, don’t let your kids suffer for it. It’s rarely their fault. Always show them that you care about them by asking about their daily activities such as school, friends, etc. Stay involved in their lives. One simple technique i learnt from another parent was to give options to your kids instead of a generic answer.
For example, instead of asking “what do you want to eat?”, ask them “would you like A or B?”. This gives them a sense of importance, while giving you control over the situation.
Keep arguments away from the kids and never use physical violence on your partner. Flashbacks of domestic violence can traumatize kids more than we know. Furthermore, when social welfare officers talk to your children to assess who gets custody, your children can unintentionally speak of the arguments or violence that occurred. This will put you in an unfavourable position in the divorce.
Lastly, don’t make your children take sides, and don’t say anything negative about your partner in front of them. All these only adds negativity to the already bleak situation, and is the last thing kids need. They need love, care and attention from you instead.
2. Encourage them to voice out
Children may feel reserved and insecure during this period, and you might not know what they are thinking. It is important that you ask the right questions so that you know and understand what they are feeling. This puts you in a better position to make life easier for them.
My 2 children are pretty quiet by nature, if compared to other kids their age. So asking them upfront how they feel doesn’t really work. What I did in these situations was to get a relative or friend to spend time with them. Surprisingly, children can be more open to people they are not close with and getting your friends or relatives who are with them to ask them the right questions can bring interesting insights into what your children are thinking.
Research has show that allowing kids to express themselves gives them a sense of empowerment and helps to ease their frustrations, so encourage them to voice out. It will help them feel better.
Also try as much as possible to be positive. Positivity is contagious and will spread to your kids, which brings a more lively situation. You can smile, laugh and crack jokes with them. It makes them happier, and makes you feel better as well.
A last resort would be to engage a family therapist to talk to you or your child separately. However, I’ve never gone to a family therapist so i’m not sure how effective they are.
3. Get others involved.
You can try and get friends or relatives involved to spend some time with your children, like i mentioned above. If possible, try to get adults who have kids, or are expecting a child. This helps to take some of the pressure off of you while you focus on other areas of your life.
Children may feel like there’s no one to depend on when their parents get divorced. This in untrue and only happens if you let it. If you have relatives or close friends to hang around and spend time with your children, they may feel more love and receive more attention than previously.
While i’m at this point, make it a habit to inform your child well in advance of major changes to their lives, such as accommodation or change of school. This will give them some time to adapt to the changes. I initially thought it would be better to tell them as late as possible but it turned out to backfire on me as my children were really unhappy with me for a while.
What i did here was to get them involved in helping to pick out some furniture for the new place and get them acquainted with the other children in the neighbourhood.
Lastly, do not get your kids to ‘send messages’ back and forth between you and your partner. Like i mentioned, they are unlikely the cause of your divorce and getting them to do this can be extremely depressing to them, and humiliating if others find out. If you can’t talk to your partner, SMS them. Do not get your kids to be the messenger.
4.Ask experts and other parents
There’s a lot to learn about managing expectations in a divorce. I find that asking other parents can sometimes be more helpful than experts, because these parents have gone through what you are undergoing currently and can give very practical advice.
They are also able to recommend good child related products and services like educational toys and which schools to enrol your child in without any bias. Furthermore, they have online groups to discuss a lot of these matters. My go to resource would definitely be motherhood forums. There are a lot of well-informed parents there who can help you out should you have questions and some of them even discuss legal aspects of a divorce.
It can be very helpful if you work with a parenting expert, or a family therapist who has experience with divorce and can give you guidance on how to handle tough situations that arise. Children also gain a great deal from talking to a therapist on their own. They often are freer to express feelings that they think might not bode well with their parents.
Article by a parent who got divorced 6 years ago.