Getting divorced still feels like a personal failure, even if it is more common than ever. What we forget is that divorce is not an event, but a process. By viewing it as a long-term project, we are less likely to pressure ourselves and any children that might be caught up in the circumstances.
The short answer is no, it’s not good for you or them. Two adults who have come to the point of no return in their adult relationship will find their arguments and anger affecting their children; not fair. The conflict between spouses is never the fault of your kids.
By staying together in a failing marriage, parents are doing more harm than good. Statistics learned from scientific studies tell us that it’s all about the age of the child at the time of its parents divorcing.
The younger the child, the more easily they get over it. They haven’t had time to develop routines and can adapt to changes better. In short, they are not yet thinking as deeply or broadly as they do when they reach puberty and beyond.
A 1996 article in The New York Times stated, “…after 10 years had passed, younger children carried fewer memories of stressful events.”
More than 1,000,000 children face the divorce of their parents in any given year in the USA alone. A child born in 1983 has a 40% chance of experiencing the end of their parent’s marriage through something as easy as a cheap divorce.
Psychological studies say that before age six is the optimum time, and that it is youngsters aged 13 to 18 who suffer most; their lives and routines are cemented, and forced to change; it hits hard, especially when it is out of their control.
Parents who have come to the conclusion that no further negotiations or professional advice will save their marriage can still save their relationship with their children. How to tell kids about a divorce is a step-one hurdle, one that cannot be skipped over. As noted above, this is a process and like grief, which is very much a part of a divorce, there are stages; omitting one doesn’t speed up the process, it stalls it.
Pivotal to any discussion about divorce with children is honesty and cohesiveness. Even if parents have grown to loathe one another, they must unite again to reassure their children that they still love them.
Again, to a large degree, it depends on the ages of the children, but there are general strategies that apply to any age group:
• plan the meeting and present your announcement together
• be calm and kind; stick to the facts
• do not blame each other for the situation; if it isn’t exactly mutual, let the kids see agreement between you at this moment (even if they’ve witnessed disagreements in the past)
• keep the meeting fairly brief and do not overwhelm the children; there will be more opportunities to discuss things
• tell them which parent will leave the family home and that both parents will continue to play a close role in the children’s lives
• explain that their daily routines may vary slightly but you’ll try to keep it to a minimum and not create a difficult time
• ensure they understand that your decision was made between the two of you and none of this is their fault
• tell them you both love them; that doesn’t change
• give them a chance to ask lots of questions, but if they do not, don’t pressure them
A young child is likely to ask things like, “Who will look after me?” An older one might be more concerned about, for example, having to change schools and lose current friends. There are a number of excellent children’s books about divorce that can help you to anticipate probable questions and assist with sensible answers; it’s like having an objective person help out with the concept of divorce and the stress of divorce on family life.
Once you have spoken to your minor children about your new plans, give it time to settle, and expect the kids, especially older ones, to react, maybe go silent, and then come back with questions, many of which will likely be rooted in fear. Be ready for that and ensure all answers are kind as well as honest, without laying blame.
There is no doubt that kids are affected by divorce. Psychological responses are usually age-related, but at any age, divorce affects children’s mental health. This does not have to be a disaster. There is bound to be a reaction; the degree of emotions can be managed by caring, loving parents who recognize that the end of their marriage is the beginning of a new relationship with their children.
Younger children will likely have feelings and a sense of dismay due to the loss of constant contact with one parent after separation. The other parent cannot make up for that entirely, but cooperation between the parents is essential to keep children’s lives as normal and routine as possible during and after divorce.
Older children are more likely to act out, perhaps with delinquent behavior, aggression, or taking up drugs, alcohol, or other criminal activities that will serve no good purpose in their lives.
Do not try to pretend that everything is business as usual and that nothing is changing. If your kids don’t have a healthy outlet for their emotions, they’re likely to act out when it becomes too much to bear. Assure your children that their feelings are important, help them label those emotions, and talk about them. It’s tempting to want to solve their problems by assuring them that everything is alright, but it tends to more often make them feel like their feelings aren’t valid. Keep the dialogue open, support them, and work with the other parent to plan how you’re going to talk about the divorce with them.
The natural fallout of divorce’s effect on kids does not have to be long-term and gradually reduces over time, especially if effective co-parenting has been undertaken, with care and devotion to the children. This is the time to set aside selfishness.
• reduced function academically
• anti-social behavior
• stress and worry (due to unknowns)
• low self-esteem
• anxiety and depression
• increased anger and aggression
If your children experience any changes of this nature in the wake of your divorce, rest assured that most of these symptoms will, in time, reduce and then stop, as you prove to them that your love still belongs to them and that their fears are unfounded.
One child that we know of had for years begged her mother to take her and leave her father. He was an unkind, harsh man, and the child suffered because of him. The child grew up feeling inadequate, frightened, and insecure. Once her mother took action, the child blossomed. By the time her father claimed visits with her, she was old enough to decide for herself.
Among the positive effects of divorce can also be the end of parental fighting, which upsets the entire household; peace is restored in a warring household.
While divorce certainly affects kids, it can sometimes be for the better all around. The outcome can include some beneficial consequences of divorce.
This is the time to set aside what caused the divorce and focus on the children who had no part in that breakup.
Once the emotional experience of the divorce process has been managed (it may be on-going, but for now the subject is out in the open), the next natural step is the practical arrangements necessary for healthy, successful separation and divorce with kids.
Setting aside the adults’ legal settlements, as the purpose of this is the children of divorce, the key issues will be child custody and child support.
A common misconception is that laws favor mothers as primary custodial parents. In the vast majority of westernized countries, laws are 100% gender-neutral but lean toward giving the larger portion of custody to the usual primary caregiver, and that tends to be the mother. More and more custody agreements are drawn in equal measure between the two parents or judges, so today you will likely see many mothers as the non-custodial parent as well.
A few words of advice on this, with thanks to an experienced divorce lawyer with whom we consulted:
When one parent is moving far away or has left to enter a new relationship they likely will be the noncustodial parent. This may not mean the parent has given up any legal custody or rights to their kids, but refers only to that of physical custody, or otherwise known as placement/visitation for the child.
Most important is to ease the children into meeting any new spouse or significant other, and never force the person upon them which could turn it into a poor relationship moving forward.
Regardless of child custody, your kids still need to have normal child experiences with you during their daily lives. It’s not only about spending extra time with your kids but the quality time with them when physical custody is becoming a bigger issue between divorced parents.
How a divorce with minor children works differently from one between couples without kids is simply that it goes beyond the division of property. That may sound cold, but it is true. And the division of property (house, cars, possessions) in a divorce where children are involved, can have long-term impacts on child development including school, friends, family, and emotional feelings. It can help to let them have a say during these stressful times, or if that is not doable, ensure they are allowed to keep things that matter to them.
Women still tend to earn less than men and even if they have a job may be entitled to (or simply deserve) additional income for themselves and/or child support, especially if they are the primary guardian. Divorcing couples need to work through a budget as part of their divorce finances that will ensure the security of the kids without a sacrifice to their activities. Poverty is not what divorce should cause for your little ones.
If you don’t already have a last will and testament, as well as a power of attorney, now is the time to get that taken care of. Ask your lawyer to include these activities in the package of legal fees for the divorce. Such legal documents will not only protect you but your children, too.
Your priority in a divorce with kids must be the kids, their stability, and their mental well-being. Present a united front to your divorce attorneys and state clearly that your children come first in the division of assets and lives.
In most divorces, the children either live full-time with their mother or share custody evenly between parents, often on some rotation between the custodial and non-custodial parents’ homes.
Set aside your disagreements long enough to decide, mutually, what is best for your children and instruct your lawyer(s) accordingly. Lawyers know the law; you and your ex know your kids.
When the divorce is final, don’t celebrate in front of the children. Always show respect for their other parent who they should always love and be proud of.
The marriage may not have worked, but the children that came of it belong to both of you and if you are committed to doing the best for them, ensuring the least upheaval due to your divorce, and their healthy, happy futures, co-parenting is your key.
Here are a few suggestions from divorce coaching, about how to be a good co-parent:
The effectiveness of co-parenting will determine how children will adjust to transitions linked to a separation or divorce.
The parent who’s granted primary residential custody usually decides on the day-to-day issues that touch on the child’s welfare.
However, other major life decisions like religion, finances, recreation, education, emergencies, and health should be agreed upon jointly. Expect not to agree on everything as every parent has differing ideas when you divorce with kids.
Here are tips for successful co-parenting:
Keep school, community support systems, and family as stable as possible. The period following the finalization of divorce is often unstable as everyone is adjusting to new conditions. Since children are different and adapt differently, others are vocal while some are not; make sure to cater to each one’s experiences.
This is the time to be supportive and nurturing. End parental conflict and support relationships that are important to the child. You can always read books and resources that will teach you more about adjusting to the divorce process with kids, especially when kids are involved.
Children fear the unknown, and an emotionally unstable household will have a detrimental impact on kids. Since feelings of guilt, sadness, rejection, anger, and fear are commonplace among children going through a divorce process, it’s pivotal to remain emotionally supportive. No law forbids you from offering this kind of support. Allow your kids to express their thoughts and emotions and you will all adjust with time.
Such children’s books on divorce can provide healing and help kids find the words to talk about their feelings.
Divorce is tough for anyone, but it’s even tougher when there are children to consider. It can be a moment that defines their understanding of adult relationships in a negative light if you’re not careful.
If divorce is inevitable, don’t wait for the children to get older to enact it. Your situation, if that unhappy, is unlikely to improve by your sticking it out just for the kids. The process of divorce is terrible but also living a terrible life in front of your kids with your spouse can be a detriment to their well-being and future relationships, too.
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