Parents may feel that they are sailing through divorce, yet children can view it quite differently.
As a part-time school nurse, I have listened to many children who end up in my nurse’s office with stress induced health issues.
Here is what kids wish their parents knew:
• We are not property that has to be divided equally. One youngster developed an eye twitch after his parents’ divorce.
They tried to be fair splitting assets and this carried over to shared care 50/50. The boy did not like the frequent switches to each parent’s home.
I spoke to the mother about this boy’s concern. The parents were able to negotiate that he would spend 75% at his mum’s and 25% with dad. His dad would be able to pick Aiden up at his mum’s for an activity and return him there afterwards. The twitch went away with this new arrangement and Aiden enjoyed time with each parent.
• Do not march into battle over us. It may be appropriate in a Victorian novel to fight over a loved one, but not in this era. I had one student who spent all morning in my nurse’s office while his parents went to war in court over custody that day. His teacher sent this lad to me, since he was incapable of learning in the classroom. Reassure the child that his custody wishes will be taken into consideration. Keep kids out of the divorce drama and do not share details with them.
• We want to know that there will be some continuity in our lives. Let the kids know that while divorce details are still being decided, the main points in their lives will remain the same. The children will attend their current schools and maintain contact with friends. They will still go to sports practices, dance classes, scouting, or whatever activities they participate in now.
• We want some say in our lives. Loss of control equals ending up in my nurse’s office with headaches or stomach aches. While kids do not set boundaries or make the rules – they certainly can have some input. Let them help with family decisions, such as do we want a summer holiday, or spread treats out during the year and have a staycation? Ask what their priorities are and work on a strategy together on how to reach them.
• Listen to us when we try and get your attention. Do not let a small problem turn into a big one because you are barely able to keep your head above water. I have seen a few kids develop eating disorders after parents’ divorces.
Check in with your children at least weekly to let them air their concerns.
Some do this at family meetings to discuss issues and go over the weekly schedule and upcoming events. Kids who feel lost in the shuffle may turn to the comfort of drugs and alcohol. When busy, doing parallel activities side by side with the kids still counts as spending time with them.
• Please do not talk to me about the other parent or your frustrations with them. Kids know our strengths and weaknesses and do not require having them pointed out by the other parent. I just tell my son that both of his parents have made mistakes and he can see what worked and use that when he becomes a parent.
• Do not make excuses about the absent parent which gets our hopes up and confuses us about reality. If a parent does not pick up the child for visitation or carries through on a promise, do not defend them. That can prolong agony or give false expectations when one parent wants to step out of the picture. You do not know what is going on in the absent parent’s heart or mind, so do not give reassurances. Instead focus on the child.
Acknowledge the child’s feelings, saying that you can see she is disappointed/frustrated. Perhaps introduce a diversion, such as suggesting she call a friend now for a pizza sleepover.
If you feel that your children are not adjusting to the divorce situation, then consider taking them to meet with a divorce coach or therapist.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.