I was listening to a relationship expert on the radio and a woman called in and said she couldn’t stand her husband but she wanted to stay married for the kids. She wanted to stay together because she didn’t want her kids to be a product of divorce.
This is a common misconception that I’ve heard before. Parents think they will mess up their children by getting divorced. I was a child of divorce, and after hearing this discussion on the radio, I knew I had an important message to share:
Kids aren’t the product of divorce, they are the product of the way parents handle divorce!
This is a critical distinction. People often think that children end up with psychological problems because of divorce, but in reality, kids have emotional problems because of the way their parents handle the separation.
When I was ten years old, I was very relieved when my parents finally divorced. They had fought for years. I loved them both, but the fighting and tension was unbearable. I used to dread the two of them being together in our house. After they split, it was so much more calm, peaceful and relaxed. When they were together, their problems were consuming my world. By getting divorced, my parents took their problems outside of my world. A bad relationship is very stressful for children and it was a welcome relief when my parents finally split up.
During and after a separation, the key to helping your children stay healthy and happy is to make sure your relationship problems remain outside of their world.
10 Ways to Help Your Children Through Divorce and Separation:
Divorce is difficult and it does affect the entire family, but here are ten ways are you can make it easier on your children.
#1 Don’t bad-mouth your ex-spouse. When your children are around, keep your negative thoughts about your ex-spouse to yourself. This means when you are talking with your children, or even talking to a friend on the phone when your children are around, do not make any negative remarks about your ex-spouse. Children need and love both parents, and it hurts and confuses them for one parent to criticize the other parent.
#2 Tell your children it is not their fault. If your children are old enough, take time to talk with them and tell them that the reason you are divorcing has nothing to do with them. Reassure your children that both parents love them very much and that your love for them will never change. Listen to your children and answer any questions they might have about the divorce.
#3 Don’t pump your children for information. Never question your children about what your ex-spouse is or isn’t doing. This is a no-win situation for a child. Children want to please their parents, and this puts them in an awkward situation of trying to decide the lesser of evils. Do they betray the other parent and share information with you, or do they betray you and withhold the information? Don’t put your children in this situation!
#4 Don’t put your children in the middle of communications. If you have something to say to your ex-spouse, say it to them yourself, don’t use your children as messengers. This is not a healthy role for them. Because of all the tension and discord during a divorce, it is likely that the information you communicate to and from your ex-spouse will cause some kind of tension, and the children will be in the middle of this tension if you use them as messengers.
#5 Try to keep everything else in your children’s lives the same. Divorce is a big change for children, and it helps if you minimize the number of other changes in their lives. If you have to move out of your house, try and keep your children in the same school, and living near their same friends, at least for a while, until they get accustomed to their new life with separated parents.
#6 Don’t force new boyfriends or girlfriends too quickly. Give your children time to adjust to the separation before forcing a new boyfriend or girlfriend on them. Accepting a “new” adult, parental figure in the family can be more difficult for children than handling the actual divorce. It’s a confusing time for children, so proceed slowly and give them time to process everything!
#7 Spend time with your children. Spending quality time with your children is especially important during and after a divorce. Be present for them, trying not to be consumed in your own problems. Let them have fun, let them talk, and let them ask questions if they have any.
#8 Don’t try and control what your ex-spouse does with your kids, You and your ex-spouse are going to have different opinions about how to raise your children. When you divorce, you typically lose the ability to work together to resolve those differences of opinion. For example, let’s say that you believe your children should not watch PG-13 movies, but your ex-spouse thinks it is OK for them to watch these movies. When you divorce, you are no longer going to be able to tell your ex-spouse not let your children watch these movies. You are going to have to give up control when your children are with your ex-spouse, and most importantly, don’t punish your children for what your ex-spouse lets them do!
#9 Try and keep an amicable relationship with your spouse. As hard as it is, one of the best things you can do for your children after a divorce is to maintain an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse. It is confusing for children to feel and see your hatred and anger for someone that holds a special place in their hearts.
#10 Take care of yourself. Stay healthy and positive, your children need you. Take time for yourself, get the help you need, exercise, eat properly and stay connected with your adult friends.