Disputes about children often factor into the decision to divorce. Parenting arrangements and child support may be central issues in divorce proceedings.
Yet all too often, the actual kids and their needs are an afterthought! When the adults are wrapped up in their own problems, children are left in the dark with few skills to cope. Children of divorce fare better in the long run if their parents are deliberate in communicating openly and honestly.
Shielding your kids from reality is not the answer
Joan B. Kelly is a psychologist, mediator and parenting coordinator who has studied the impact of divorce on children. In 10 Ways To Protect Your Kids from a high-conflict divorce, she offers some solid advice for divorcing parents:
Children need to be clued in
Surprisingly few divorcing couples actually sit their kids down to explain that they are separating or divorcing. Instead, the kids are left to wonder and worry (and speculate). Your marital situation may be complex and fluid, and it’s a heart-wrenching conversation to have your child. But it is so important to talk to them.
Your kids don’t need to hear the “dirty laundry” reasons for your divorce. They do need to know that they will still be cared for. They need to know what will change and what will stay the same. They need to be kept in the loop and given permission to ask questions.
Leave your children out of your conflicts
Your anger and resentments and disputes are your cross to bear. Don’t talk about your divorce proceedings within earshot of the kids. Don’t badmouth or undermine the other parent. Don’t make your child pick sides or make them feel they are “betraying” you. It is stressful and damaging for kids to be caught in the middle and used as pawns or spies.
Children still need you to be a parent
Fathers can become isolated from their children if they move out of the home. It is critical for dads to stay involved — and for moms to let them stay involved. Numerous studies show that children of divorce want their fathers involved in their lives and thrive (or struggle) accordingly.
Parenting roles change in separation and divorce. Maybe Mom has to become a disciplinarian or homework helper. Maybe dad has to learn how to cook supper and speak teenager. Even though you are splitting up as a couple, you still need to present a united front as parents.
Help your kids get through this
In the midst of a high-conflict divorce, it’s hard to always “act like an adult.” But during the lulls, you can be intentional in explaining to your kids what is happening and listening to their concerns. You can purposefully consider their needs as you contemplate the future. You can consciously plan to be involved in their lives, perhaps in new ways.
In addition to mediation or other conflict resolution of the legal matters, you may consider family counseling or one-on-one counseling for your children to help them cope with what is probably the biggest and scariest thing that has ever happened in their life.