You never know how bad hurting your kids will be until you’re well down the road of your divorce. I would have lived in misery for 10 more years with my ex if I had known how a divorce would have affected my kids, and my future with them (but that’s a bigger story for another day).
Kids are always going to think they’re in trouble for doing something wrong. I mean one of our first conversations with them, when they were toddlers, was telling them not to do something or simply shouting out “NO”, am I right? Early on parents set the “norms” and expectations for their kids. These norms are incorporated into a child’s self. They clearly understand the roles of “child” and “adult”. Most experience love and feelings of being secure and safe while being raised by both parents. Their sense of self is being formed from the influence of their mother and father, never questioning their instruction and believing everything that comes from the parental figures as “golden”.
So when their beloved mother and father decide to divorce their first thought is that they contributed to the mess, driving a wedge between their parents. There are many different parenting styles, and those may have contributed to splitting up your marriage, but the kids didn’t do it to you, and more than likely it was just a build-up of ongoing conflict that marriage counseling couldn’t fix (it didn’t work for me).
Most likely kids think that the new family dynamic was caused by them and the hurt and pain they witness from those they love the most are their fault. This is the time for spouses to join fronts with minimal conflict and tell the kids that these are adult issues happening, and even consider joint visits to a child therapist for guidance.
Are the Stories True About Divorce with Kids?
We’ve heard stories about people who had a bad marriage and were able to get through it without hurting their children. But we’ve also heard stories where the children suffered greatly.
So what should we do? How can we protect ourselves and our kids?
Here are some things to consider:
1. If you think you might be having problems with anger, depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues, talk to someone who knows you well or a divorce counselor in the mental health profession. Ask them to be honest with you.
2. Don’t let yourself get angry with your ex. It’s not good for you or your kids.
3. Try to maintain a positive attitude regardless of the impact of divorce.
4. When you’re married, you have one set of parenting rules. When you’re divorced, you have another set. This makes things confusing for kids because they don’t know which rules apply to them every time. Their routine is all messed up and increases the effects of divorce.
5. If you’re not careful, divorce will hurt your kids. It may even break their hearts as have two single parents who are saddened and all alone.
6. If you have children, you should never let anyone tell you that divorce is easy. It’s not. It hurts. And it’s hard. Just ask any set of divorced parents.
Why Divorce Hurts Kids
Divorce is a traumatic experience for the whole family and parental conflict of any kind can be devastating on a child. It can lead them to feelings of abandonment, anger, sadness, confusion, fear, and insecurities. Children may also feel guilty about their parents’ breakup and worry they will lose one parent or both.
One site reports a statistic that because of how the brain develops in children, especially under 12, they will likely be resistant to believing the fault for the divorce does not lie with them.
Mature Ways to Handle Divorce in Front of the Kids
– Don’t be afraid to talk about your marriage problems or other tough questions kids have
– Know when to let go
– Keep your cool, even if you’re really angry
– Don’t let the kids see you cry
– Set boundaries with your ex
– Have a plan for your future
– Don’t make assumptions about your spouse’s behavior
– Don’t forget that you can always change your mind
– Don’t let your children suffer because of your divorce
How Parents Can Help Their Kids Through This Experience
Divorce professionals know this is an especially difficult time for children, who are often caught in the middle of a divorce between their parents and have no control over what happens next. The best way you can help your kids through this process is by being there for them when they need it most. During the process of separation and divorce – do not become another absent parent.
Here are some tips that will make things easier on your mental health for both you and your child:
1) Be Honest with Them About What Happens
Next, you may think that telling your kid about the pending divorce will only cause more stress or confusion. But if you want to be able to support him/her throughout the entire process, then it’s important that he/she knows everything as soon as possible so s/he won’t feel blindsided later.
If you don’t tell them now, chances are they might find out from someone else, which could lead to unnecessary heartache down the road. So instead of hiding something from them only to strengthen the impact of divorce, talk openly with them about what’s happening and why.
This will give them the opportunity to ask questions and understand how all these changes affect them. Plus, since they know exactly what’s going on, they’ll be better prepared for any negative emotions that come up later on as part of the consequences of divorce.
2) Keep Family Life Calm at Home
It’s natural to become angry after getting divorced; however, having an argument right before bedtime isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Instead, keep your cool even though you may still be upset about the situation. Remember, your ex probably feels the same way, but that doesn’t mean you should act like a jerk towards him/her. This would only be setting a bad example for the children to follow and they might start to “pick sides”. And remember, yelling never solves anything!
3) Do Not Expect Anything Special from Your EX Right Now
If you expect your partner to change their behavior because of the impending divorce, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. They’ll feel every reason to behave badly toward you while dealing with the emotional fallout from the split. In fact, many people blame themselves for their partners’ actions, too.
Myths About How Divorce Can Hurt Kids Over Time
Myth #1: Kids will be better off if their parents divorce.
Fact: Children are affected by the consequences of divorce just like adults are. They may feel sad or angry, but they don’t necessarily suffer long-term effects or a harder time than others.
Myth #2: If you’re going through a divorce, your kids won’t get hurt.
Fact: Even though children often don’t understand what’s happening, they still experience stress from an absent parent.
Myth #3: Divorce is always bad for kids.
Fact: Sometimes divorce is necessary for the well-being of both parties involved and they’ll have to get used to having single parents instead of them living in an unhappy marriage.
Myth #4: Divorce ruins kids’ lives.
Fact: Divorce does not ruin children’s lives. It’s parents who ruin their children’s lives by not keeping the family intact. Children are resilient. They will survive divorce just fine as the transition time increases.
Myth #5: Shield my kids from the divorce.
Fact: Kids are going to have lots of questions about what is going on. There isn’t any way to totally shelter or hide your children from your divorce. You don’t have to fully include them in every decision but hiding a life matter from them won’t help you nor be functional.
Why You Shouldn’t Stay Together as a Family Just for the Kids
1) Kids are not always happy with their parents’ decisions. They may resent being forced to live with you or be dependent on you.
2) Kids need to learn how to make their own decisions and take responsibility for themselves.
3) Kids will grow up and leave home eventually.
Conclusion: Helping Your Kids & Understanding Their Feelings
Look, this time might be the most traumatic experience you will ever go through in your life. A divorce counselor may say to you that, “it is important to remember that divorce is not about your kids or your spouse; it is about you and your needs.” You are the parent who will be affected by this decision, so make sure you are ready for what comes next.
But, that does not mean you are no longer a parent to children of divorce!
– Children of divorce should be protected against adult matters, even when parents are separated.
– Parents should try to keep their kids together as much as possible.
– Children should learn about divorce from their parents, rather than from friends, extended family, or media.
– Children should know that this is mostly normal and that they might experience it themselves at some point.
– Children should be taught how to cope with the effects of divorce, and what to expect.
– If you’re going through the divorce process, there’s no doubt that it will affect you and your kids. Stay involved in their lives, schools, and answer questions truthfully but be protective. Consider a therapist for your children if questions become too involved or may cause more conflict.
– It’s important to remember that, even though they may not agree with the decision, neither parent wants to hurt their child.
– To avoid hurting your kids, try to remain calm during the entire divorce process. You don’t want to scare them or upset them, so it’s important to stay as neutral and conflict-free as possible to lessen any impact of divorce on them.
– When making decisions regarding custody, visitation, and support, you should always consider what’s best for your kids. Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment which only puts more pressure on your kids and ultimately the entire family.