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Telling the Kids: Parenting and Divorce

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Oftentimes, people wonder how much they should tell their children about their divorce. There are a lot of challenges that divorcing couples must wade through with their children. It’s not just about custody and parenting time. There is an ocean of emotional issues to swim through. How do you explain the divorce to your children? How do you cope with your own whirlwind emotions while still helping your children through theirs?

Here are some tips to help you through your communication with your children:

  • Prepare ahead of time. Be ready for the hard stuff. This is a confusing time for your children, regardless of what age they are. Their world is being changed forever, and they may be scared and uncertain or feel like they have to take sides. Those occasionally painful or awkward questions will arise, and when they do, it will be easier if you have prepared yourself emotionally. If you start to get frustrated or upset, take a few breaths and try to remember that they are just as upset as you are and will need to be comforted.
  • Be civil. Nothing puts children in a more difficult spot than being privy to the betrayed feelings and hostile emotions of one or both parents. Children already have a sense of responsibility regarding their parents’ divorce, they may wonder if it was something they might have done to cause the divorce ”“ or if there was something they could have done to prevent it. Protect them from the glare of the strong emotions you are likely feeling and stay away from negative characterizations of your spouse.
  • Be honest. Children are very in tune to the changes in the atmosphere and mood in their household. Even if you have not mentioned a single word about the divorce to them, they may already be aware that things are not all as they should be. They do not need to know every detail about your divorce, but what information you do provide should be honest.
  •  Focus on them. You are going through a very difficult time right now, even if your divorce is amicable. So are your children. It is perfectly understandable and okay for them to feel upset, sad, or scared during this process. Listen to their questions and concerns and answer thoughtfully, no matter how hard it seems when faced with your own struggles.
  •  Find a confidante. Find someone you can vent your emotions to, so you don’t have bottled up emotions that may spill over into your interactions with your children. Your soon-to-be-ex-spouse is still your children’s parent, and they are likely experiencing their own emotional ups and downs. A good confidante can help you avoid being tempted to give them yours. If you can, consider speaking to a therapist about the process.
  • Spend quality time with your children. It can be easy to get caught up in your own challenges, so set aside some time especially for your children. Ideally, they should spend time alone with both parents, so they still understand that they are important to you and that you won’t abandon them. Find fun things to do that take you and your kids away from the wave of emotions all of you are likely experiencing ”“ take a nature walk, watch the sun set, play ball, whatever you enjoy doing together. Even little breaks can help everyone maintain their emotional balance.

Conclusion

What children want more than anything during a divorce is to feel like things will be normal again ”“ even if it is a new normal. They need to know they are still loved, valued, and cherished. There will be good days and bad days with kids during the process, and their emotions will manifest in many ways, from acting out to withdrawal. They may be confused, angry, and scared. Remember to find small respites in the day to make things feel normal again. Taking care of yourself is also important because it allows you to take care of them.