The Children Of Divorce
This new short guide is based on my book Keep on Swimming Freddie, for helping parents who are raising their children in two separate homes.
6-12 is the hardest age for children to deal with the break-up of their parents. They have the recollection of all the happy family times together and they do not understand. Children do not have the vocabulary to articulate how they are feeling either. If handled well, parents can reduce the psychological effects divorce will have on their children.
As parents our duty is to show them how to behave, so lead by example. Our parental role is to model core beliefs and moral values. Our responsibility is to uphold as parents when faced with a break-up and divorce. Children in the early years are like sponges and impressionable. If you shout and scream, they will think that this is acceptable behaviour.
Children will mimic what they see and carry unsociable conduct into their adult life because they know no different. Coparenting, being a single mum or dad does not mean that your children will be dysfunctional so long as you behave in a responsible, dignified and mature manner. You are the teacher. Children are not objects to be used in the push and pull of divorcing parents. They are not possessions to be fought over and divided up. They are precious, sensitive young people who are growing and require both their parents to put their needs before their own. Keep listening and talking to your children.
Ask them how they are feeling. They need to have their parents full and undivided attention. Show them you are interested in how they are feeling and take interest in what they are doing at school, etc… By communicating, co-operating and keeping a close relationship, your children will not suffer as a result of your separation. Instead, it will raise their confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. Children do not know how to verbalise how they are feeling. If your son or daughter is being rude, disruptive or naughty, then the root cause of this could possibly be due to frustration or fear.
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”– Fran Lebowitz
T he world is a big place. Your heart may have been broken, but you are worthy of finding love again with someone who will reciprocate this unrequited love. In every divorce there is usually at least one broken heart, the one that loved and lost, the one that still secretly hopes for a change of heart or reconnection with an ex spouse. This “love” you think you have for your ex is most likely not going to reignite, so you really need to learn to let this go, in all relationships why would you wish to be with someone, who doesn’t wish you to be with you? You shouldn’t is the answer because out there, are seven billion more people you can meet who want you for you. So let this love go and focus on the new.
It is important that your children understand and are able to express the feelings they have about your separation or divorce. It is easier for most children to draw their feelings rather than verbalise them. The confusing feelings about divorce can be very stressful for most children. Some children may internalise their feelings which can possibly result in headaches, stomach aches or behavioural problems. What a child thinks is as powerful as what actually happened. Be gentle if you see misconceptions and correct them with a soft approach at the appropriate time. Find ways to help them learn to cope with the change and loss and to continue loving and trusting the important role models in their life. You didn’t set out to be a single parent. You set out to be the best parent you can be and that shouldn’t change. Think about what is best for your child. Children are often more balanced when they grow up feeling loved by both parents and whatever your differences are as adults, put them aside for the sake of your child(ren) and lead by example. It’s important to make time to listen and talk to your children. Give your child your full attention. Hear what they have to say and don’t judge or criticise. Support your child’s feelings by repeating what they have said back to them. Make sure you also understand what it is they have said too. DON’T tell them how they should think and feel and certainly don’t burden them with how you are feeling. Set aside an evening in the week or a morning at the weekend when you sit down with them, with no interruption. Turn off your mobile phone and even better, put it away in a drawer for an hour. Children will not take it seriously if you rush them or aren’t 100 per cent engaged. If they ask you a question which you are either unable to answer or feel it is inappropriate to answer according to their relative age, then don’t try to do so. Give yourself time to think about it and come back to them later. Try not to fix the problem for your child. How your children are feeling isn’t always evident. What you are seeing as a parent on the outside isn’t necessarily a true indication on how they are feeling on the inside.
As parents we want to fix or resolve problems for our children. We want to make them feel better. As part of their development, having to learn to fix things for themselves toughens them up for future challenging situations in their life. It gives them the opportunity to grow. Create structures and routines and rituals in your home. Children like to have a pattern to their day and boundaries. Try to stick to the routines already established before your break-up and divorce by minimising the number of changes your children experience after your separation. Keep children’s involvement in hobbies and extracurricular activities. Maintain positive connections and relationships to extended family members on both sides such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc… Do not assume that your children are feeling and thinking the same way you are about divorce.
Prior to becoming a Divorce & Separation Coach (and going through the emotional rollercoaster of divorce myself) I was a Learning Mentor in a primary school. Learning mentors offer support and guidance to children and young people who experience difficulties with their learning. I would help children struggling with social, emotional or behavioural problems that affected their ability to learn. Happy children are great learners! Most of the children I helped were unhappy because of family life and more often than not, this was due to the separation and divorce of their parents.
I would encourage the children to express themselves through play, drawing, reading or simply talking about a subject that they loved. I remember one young boy whose passion was sports cars. I managed to get hold of some very colourful, glossy car magazines and he was so excited to share his knowledge on each and every picture with me. He would cut out the pictures he particularly liked, stick them in a scrapbook and write about them. He enjoyed this time with me and over a few weeks, he began to open up and talk about his worries. When children are engaged through an activity that they enjoy and are passionate about, it helps to break the ice and put the child at ease.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”– Marie Curie
How can I help?
Please note that it can take time for a child to open up, so be patient and don’t force the issue. Children’s reactions to divorce can be impacted by numerous circumstances. For example, how you are managing the divorce and the amount of tension and conflict between yourself and the other parent. The information and reasons you tell the children about the separation or divorce or any number of changes and any upheaval your children experience while the divorce is happening. The level of support your children receive from outside the family unit such as school and certain circumstances that are out of your control, here are some you will need to be aware of:
- How you are managing the divorce and the amount of tension and conflict between yourself and the other parent
- The information and reasons you tell the children about the separation or divorce
- The number of changes and any upheaval your children experience while the divorce is happening
- The level of support your children receive from outside the family unit such as school
- Circumstances that are out of your control, but that you will need to be concerned and well aware of
- How each parent is handling the divorce
- The age, gender, level of progress and maturity of your child
- The personality of your child
Life has obviously changed for you and your children, but please do not lose sight of what matters most. It isn’t materialistic, it is the time you spend with them and love is the greatest gift of all.