Managing Divorce With Children: Advice for divorced parents

manage divorce with children
Posted by Fine & Associates on November 19, 2014

A divorce is never an easy process. It is a taxing ordeal on both spouses, and if there are children involved, their feelings need to be considered as well. Children will experience a wide range of emotions when dealing with a divorce, such as anger, confusion, fear or guilt. It will be stressful for them and they may not comprehend exactly why it is happening. It's a time of vulnerability and stress when you're going through a separation, which can make it seem like an even more difficult task to respond to your child's needs while already shouldering the weight of a divorce.

This doesn't need to be a burden. You love your children and you want to make this adjustment as easy as possible for them. The key to doing this is communication. You probably wondering how you will break the news, what should you say, and when do you have the conversation. This can seem daunting, so we have some advice to help you manage your relationship with your children during the divorce process.

Telling Your Children About the Divorce

Many parents find starting the conversation about divorce with their children the toughest thing to do. Anxiety is normal and expected when breaking this type of news to your children. Planning your talk out with your partner can be an effective strategy when you are ready to approach the conversation. Knowing what you are going to say can help you to get some of the anxiety out of the way, as well as help you cover all of the things you need to talk about.

When you begin the conversation, don't dance around the details. Overcomplicating the talk can confuse your children more quite a bit. Try to keep your explanation simple and clear. For example you could say “We have decided that we no longer get along, but we both still love you". When you do this, you should emphasize and reassure them that you both love them and will continue to love them, even though some things are going to change.

It is very important that you don't place blame or be critical of your partner during this conversation. Avoiding conflict will help to make sure that the situation does not worsen and that you don't put any undue pressures or stress on your children. Your children will also be curious about the new living situations. Make sure to discuss where they will be living and clarify any confusion they may have about visitation. Be sure to speak with your divorce lawyer ahead of time so you can have the appropriate answers ready when you begin to talk about custody and visitation.

Have Open Communication About What's Happening

It can be hard trying to explain such a sensitive subject with your children when you are struggling with your own emotions. Find the strength for your children, even if it's just for that moment, to see them make it through this event unscathed. There is no doubt that the most important thing you need to reinforce is that you will love them no matter what and that you'll always be there to support them. Also be sure to address any changes that will occur to their home life before they actually happen, don't spring any surprises on them. Emphasize that even though a lot of changes will be happening at home, you will be going through it all together.

Work together with your partner when communicating with your children to help create an image of stability. Presenting this information together will help ease them into the changes and become accustomed to the new arrangements. It cannot be stressed enough that you should be truthful with the information you are providing while still showing respect to your former partner. Be sure to take the time to listen to anything your children have to say, listening is key to good communication.

Continue Supporting Your Child

Divorce can be a long and arduous process and you should continue supporting your child throughout it all. By providing unconditional love and continuing to reassure that fact, your child will be able to make it through this trying time. Continue to be involved your children's lives so they don't feel neglected, this will reinforce that you love and support them. A good way to do this is to continue taking part in their hobbies, like sports or after school activities.

Encourage Your Children to Share Their Feelings

Children can often come up with their own interpretation of why these things are happening. This could result in them personalizing or blaming themselves as the cause for the divorce. Other times they could be confused and not understand certain aspects of what will be happening. You should encourage your children to voice their concerns, thoughts and feelings as you move through this process, so you can deal with them together.

Assure them that their questions or thoughts are important and that both you and your partner will answer them honestly. The way your child will share their thoughts will vary. Some children will have lots of questions and need extra care with the explanations. Other children may lash out in anger and show frustration about what is happening. Look for strategies tailored to the way your child handles these changes to help you better communicate with them.

If your child is showing hesitation or looks uncomfortable speaking with you, try other tactics to get them to voice their thoughts. Emails or written letters are one way to get your child to express their feelings in a non-verbal way. This still maintains your open line of communication and provides them the opportunity to express themselves in whatever way they find most comfortable.

Focus Their Attention Elsewhere

Try to refocus their attention on other things. Fun activities can be a great distraction from the current situation and reduce their overall stress. Movies, a walk in the park, or some amusement rides are all great suggestions for other activities to take their mind off of things for a little bit.

Work On Establishing A Routine

Establishing a routine is a great way to build discipline and normalize the situation at home. With a lot of change happening, structure will reinforce that their world is still the same and things will be fine. A consistent routine, in addition to being good for your child in the long-term, will help your child become comfortable more quickly.

It's important that you work in tandem with your partner to set a schedule in both homes for your child to follow. You both should try to refrain from breaking the rules and limitations that you have set in place, as this will be counter-productive to what you are trying to accomplish. Having a normal schedule and routine makes them feel more comfortable and less stressed about the big life change that they are dealing with.

Self Care and Parenting After Divorce

Although a divorce has changed your relationship with your partner, it doesn't mean that your relationship with your children will become worse. If anything, this is an opportunity to build stronger bonds with your children. You should understand that your children will have a lot of questions and thoughts still, so you should respect their need for communication. Making a commitment to build a relationship of trust, respect and open communication is a good way to maintain a healthy relationship with their children.

It is also important that you spend some time taking care of yourself as well. It can be difficult to parent if you are not feeling great about yourself. As much as we think we can hide our emotions, they bleed through everything we do. A positive self feeling is important to being healthy and will translate into your parenting. Work on your body and your soul. Eat healthy and exercise, but also seek friends or a therapist to express any feelings or emotions that you need to talk about.

Conflict may happen between you and your former spouse. If it does, try to keep it away from your children. They don't need to be part of any negativity or conflict between you two. Having a good relationship with both parents is much easier when there is a neutral relationship between you and your ex spouse. It will be difficult at times to get along with each other, but it's in everyone's best interest to let go of the fight and maintain a positive experience for you and your children.

Mistakes to Avoid

There are a lot of things that you should try to do. It also helps to know what things to avoid doing as well. Here are some mistakes to avoid with your child.

  • • Don't use your child to communicate with your ex. This puts undue stress on them and creates a negative relationship between both parents.
  • • Don't use your child as your therapist. Sharing angry feelings and complicated divorce details with you child puts an unfair emotional burden on them.
  • • Don't tell your child what to think. It's important to listen to their feelings and try to understand. You don't always have to have the solution, you just need to listen.
  • • Don't interrogate your child about their time spent with your ex spouse. Ask them in a neutral way like “how was your weekend”, keep it fun, casual and don't press any further than you need to.
  • • Don't give up if you've made mistakes. Children can be more forgiving than you think. Identify and verbalize the mistakes you've made, and apologize.

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Children can react to divorce in many different ways. They could experience fear, anxiety, guilt, blame, anger, depression or more. Using the aforementioned advice you can work to lessen these negative feelings and make them more comfortable with the coming transition. If more serious problems begin to manifest, like sleep issues, violence, or self-inflicted injury, do not let them go unaddressed. Have a discussion with your child's doctor if you have any concerns or notice your child showing any serious warning signs.

This article was submitted by Fine & Associates - Family and Divorce Lawyers based in Toronto, Canada.

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