If you ask children in a divorced family what they wish for, they usually say that they wish for their parents to be together. Togetherness is family; it’s security; it’s love to a child. The problem with divorce is that togetherness ends. A parent moves out. New partners may move in. New kids may move in with them.
Divorce is not a single isolated episode in in your child’s life. For you, divorce can mean the end of an unhappy marriage and a new start, but to your child it means something entirely different. For your child, it affects their daily life on most basic levels. Divorce continues to affect their lives far into the future; at every recital, school play, soccer game, graduations, holidays, their birthdays, vacations.
A child sees and interprets the situation through their eyes. They often take the blame for their parents’ break up. They wonder what they did to cause it. They feel torn between the two homes.
So what can you do to make it easier on your child?
· Explain why you split (in child appropriate ways without blaming anyone)
· Answer their questions
· Explain what is going to happen now
· Reassure that both parents still love them and support each other in parenting
· Include them in problem-solving discussions (in age appropriate ways)
· Talk about two homes and how they would like to have them set up
· Limit the back-and-forth between the two homes
· Establish the same lifestyles so that the child feels secure
· Reassure your child that if s/he misses the parent who is not there, s/he can always call/go over to the other parent
· Give them permission to love the other parent
· Give them permission to love the significant other of the other parent
· Forgive your ex so that you can move forward as co-parents
Open communication with your children leads to a creation of inclusion and a new sense of security. Communication, however, does not mean just talking. If you ask your child how s/he feels about your divorce, usually you get an “ok” and the conversation is over. Kids protect themselves by clamming up when the emotion is too overwhelming. So, when they don’t want to talk, you know that it may mean they are really hurting. If you can give your child permission to continue loving both parents as before the divorce, your child can start accepting the new situation.
Communication can happen on many levels…eye contact, a hug, joining the child in an activity they are doing. If your child experiences strong negative emotion like anger or hate, don’t turn away and don’t shut them out. Anger, feelings of hatred, and other intense emotions are a gateway to a real connection. Instead of telling your child to go to his/her room after s/he just talked back to you, connect! If you embrace them in their darkest moments and pour love in, there will be a connection.