Divorce happens. And as soon as the children know about it, that moment, can become a watershed moment for your child or children. However, as much as divorce is important, what is even more crucial is how it’s handled.
The divorce process is already physically, emotionally and mentally challenging making it extremely hard to play the good, attentive and caring parent as much you would like to.
You will make mistakes no doubt. You will say things and do things with your child in the room that you wish you hadn’t. Then you will spend time worrying that you have somehow permanently damaged your child.
“Crazy” moments like these, that are not consistent and repetitive, are quickly and easily mended with an acknowledgement from you to them that it shouldn’t have happened followed by a genuine apology.
Divorce being the delicate, confusing and life-changing time that it is, here are some important things to keep in mind when looking after your children:
- Don’t go it alone! Get yourself some support. This is said so often yet it’s amazing how so many don’t do it and continue walking around like some sort of warrior person. You see without support, good, strong and objective support, you will crack. And when you do, the people closest to you will be the first to be affected and those people are very likely going to be your children. So put your own support system in place.
- Don’t assume that your children understand why your marriage ended, especially the younger ones. You know why and your partner knows why too but for children, splitting up the family to make life better may not make any sense and if it doesn’t make sense then they cannot cope with it all. So do, pay attention to the questions they ask and try and answer them in the best way possible without painting their other parent as the horrid, evil villain – even if it’s true. Remember as Haim Ginott says, children never ask questions to which they know the answer
- Avoid making promises that you know you won’t or cannot keep. Don’t say things on the spur of the moment just to make them feel better knowing that in time, the truth will reveal itself and they will be left feeling crushed. For instance don’t promise that you will get back together or that you will see them every weekend if you know that that will never be the case. If you don’t know what will happen, tell them exactly that.
- Create parenting plans that are child centred and appropriate for their age as opposed to what works just for you. An 18-month toddler cannot build a good and loving relationship if he only sees his father once a month for one day. A parenting plan created for a three-yea-old is unlikely to work the same way on a 13 year old. So be prepared to adjust the plan as your child grows.
- Do let your child’s school know what’s going on. Don’t ask your children to keep affairs of the home secret. It’s not fair. You school-aged child spends most of his/her/their waking time at school so they will need looking after there as much as at home.
- A stitch in time saves nine. If you are concerned about your child’s changes in behaviour, then do contact a professional as soon as possible.This person can help you continue parenting your child as you would like. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of doing this, on the contrary, it means that you are continuing to look after your child by getting you and him/her help so as to make them feel better as they rebuild their lives.
Divorce is a watershed moment in the life of any child, no matter how amicable the whole process is.
Having said this, divorce needn’t be a trauma that permanently changes who your child is. Handle it well and it will be something your child went through at some point in his/her life as opposed to something that now and forever defines who they are.
Soila is a child development psychologist and the founding editor of The Divorce Magazine. She is known for easing the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families and has been working with children and families for almost two decades. Soila holds a BSc (Hons) in psychology from the Open University and an MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology from UCL (University College London). She is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner and very recently completed her professional doctoral training in Counselling Psychology and is awaiting registration.