The Youngest Victims of Divorce
Tips for Making Divorce Less Painful for Children
Divorce is rarely a pleasant experience – a trying mix of emotions and financial/legal issues that is often tainted by hostility and regret. Children become an additional complication to this process with issues of custody and visitation. It becomes critical to realize that these younger, powerless individuals are also active participants in the divorce process. To make matters worse, children are facing these issues during their important developmental years. The Equality in Marriage Institute has developed a series of tips to help parents navigate the choppy waters of divorce with a focus on their child’s well being.
Keep Them Informed:
Children don’t need to be exposed to every ugly detail of your divorce. However, young people are very perceptive and shutting them off from the process can lead to feelings of isolation and confusion. With a lack of explanation, they will often blame themselves for the break-up. Make sure you communicate with your children frequently. Take time to carefully articulate the reasons for the divorce without being hostile or giving unnecessary information that may lead to confusion or resentment toward one parent. It is important to set aside any emotional baggage before these conversations to prevent the children from feeling caught in the middle or force them to take sides. Also keep children up-to-date on the status of the divorce and what it might mean to their lifestyle. If possible, some of these conversations should include both parents. Finally, encourage children to ask questions they may have and promote an environment of open, honest communication.
Be A Role Model:
We know that role models, particularly parents, play a strong role in children’s self-esteem and character development. Utilize your private time and support network of friends, family and, if necessary, a therapist, to vent feelings of anger. Remember that your children are watching you. The Equality in Marriage Institute advocates every individual actively managing their divorce process with knowledge and dignity. Handling this process like a professional sends a positive message to your children and teaches valuable life lessons about acting responsibly even through rough times.
Repair The Cynicism:
At The Institute we talk to thousands of individuals dealing with divorce. Our experience shows us that it is nearly impossible for divorcees to heal or build new relationships without repairing the cynicism towards marriage that is often a side effect of the process. It is common to lose your faith in relationships and partnerships after a divorce, but it is unfair to pass this belief on to younger family members. We often use the analogy of trying on jeans at The Gap. Just because one pair fits awkwardly, you don’t immediately give up on the concept of jeans and ban them from your wardrobe forever. Instead you notate where the pants don’t fit and search for a cut that is more suitable to your frame. In the same way, we encourage individuals to take time after their divorce to learn from their past relationship and identify the problem areas that “didn’t work.” These valuable lessons will help build stronger relationships in the future. These lessons are also important for children. Make sure your dialogue and actions aren’t projecting a damaging picture of relationships to your children. Talk to them as much as you feel comfortable about the reasons your marriage didn’t last. Be positive when approaching the issue of relationships in the future.
Give Them A Job:
Children like to feel involved and important. While we don’t advice making them a part of your legal team, it is crucial to let them feel part of the transitions that occur after divorce. If the split means relocation or a change in lifestyle, make children a part of related tasks. Ask for their opinion. Maybe the divorce means a change in cost of living. Give a young child the responsibility of cutting out coupons to help cut grocery costs. Take them with you when looking at potential relocation areas. Remember, they have a lot at stake in the changes that are happening and want to feel like a priority.
It’s easy to be distracted by the many emotional and business issues involved in a divorce. Despite these distractions, it is essential to keep a constant eye on your children. These tough times of transitions can be the catalyst to negative and even harmful behavior including violence, drug/alcohol abuse and childhood depression. Again, communication is critical and drastic changes in behavior should be addressed. If necessary, consult the advice of a licensed therapist both as an intervention technique and a way to provide children with an unbiased ear to voice their feelings and concerns.