When it comes to divorce, kids are the ones who suffer the most. Often, they feel as though they had something to do with the split. And you, as the parent, have to make sure that they understand that it has nothing to do with them. Help them work through the pain they feel, and provide important context that children can understand.
Don’t Make Your Child The Conduit For Your Hatred Of Your Ex
In a lot of divorces, it’s common for the adults to behave badly at one stage or another. It’s usually kicked off by years of resentment coming to a head. Someone says something that would usually be innocuous, and it sets the other person off. A “War of the Roses” starts. The kids are caught in the middle.
Lawyers, like Scott Goldman, see this kind of thing all the time when dealing with division of assets during a divorce. An especially challenging aspect of divorce is what to do with the children, since they’re not property.
But, even property can be tricky to divide up, with military divorces being some of the most complex to sort out due to the benefits packages afforded military personnel.
Unfortunately, a lot of parents use this opportunity to “get back” at the other spouse by making the child the conduit for their hatred. They may start bad-mouthing the other parent, using the child to communicate messages to the other parent (even if they’re not overtly negative), or otherwise involving the child in the communication process.
This is wrong, and it’s unfortunate for the child. Don’t use your child to communicate with your soon-to-be ex. The child won’t understand why you don’t like the other person. Remember, that other person is his or her parent. The kid loves that person, and trying to put a wedge between him or her and the parent will only build resentment for you later on.
Tell The Truth About Why You’re Breaking Up
Don’t hide pertinent facts from your child. Maybe they don’t understand what “cheating” is, and maybe they don’t understand why you fell out of love, but you can tell them in a way that they might understand. Even if it’s as simple as “mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore,” that’s usually enough.
If they ask why, you can try to go into a few more details like how you don’t agree on important matters or how you want something very different from the relationship that your spouse can’t give you, or that you grew apart and don’t find the spouse attractive anymore.
Emphasize that you don’t think the other person is a bad parent, and that it’s not the child’s fault. This is a tough time for kids, who don’t respond well to change and won’t understand adult values as well as you do.
Don’t Blame The Child, Or The Other Parent
Don’t blame the child overtly or implicitly for anything that happens during the divorce. First of all, it’s not actually their fault. Secondly, it makes them feel awful for something they are usually too young to fully grasp anyway. And, don’t blame the other parent. Not good. It will earn you disrespect in the future when they’ve grown up and figured out what you’ve done.
Listen To Your Children
During this time, your child will probably be expressing a lot of feelings, experiencing feelings he or she isn’t used to feeling or hasn’t felt before. Be there for them.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
Don’t tell your child how they should feel. Let them experience it. Acknowledge and validate what they’re feeling, and help guide them through this time with a solution-focused approach that doesn’t repress their emotions.
Make Time For Yourself
Don’t forget about yourself in all of the hustle and bustle of a divorce. It will wear you down, it’s an emotionally-draining experience, but your children will be able to tell it’s affecting you and it will make them upset.
If they’re really young, they won’t be able to understand exactly why you’re upset, so it’s best to minimize the outward appearance of stress. At the same time, you can’t fake it, and repressing your emotions isn’t healthy. So, what do you do? You actually de-stress yourself.
Take time out to get a massage, go to a spa (yes, even if you’re a guy, you need to destress), go to a ballgame, or find time for you to engage in activities that relax you. At the end of the day, it’s about the kids and giving them the best possible life you can.
You can only do that if you’re healthy, happy, and optimistic about your (and their) future.
Scott Goldman is a divorce and family law attorney practicing in Denver, CO. He founded Goldman Law, LLC on the principle that everyone deserves professional and ethical representation. Scott was born in Detroit, MI and lived there for 26 years before moving to Colorado for the better weather and the great skiing.