When it comes to stressful life events, the termination of a long-term relationship is right up there with the hardest of them all. When you add children into the mix it’s a veritable melting pot ready to boil over.
It is possible to attempt to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of divorce on children. It will take careful, considered and considerate planning on the behalf of both adults involved and it definitely is possible.
Here are some ideas to help you navigate this difficult time in the life of your family.
Effects of divorce on children – It’s Not About You
Children internalise a lot of what happens around them. You may well remember this from when you were a child. You think everything is about and because of you.
It’s possible that, if your children have heard you arguing and have been witnesses to part of the separation process, they may well feel that they are the cause of the angst.
It’s important to take the time to speak with your children calmly about what’s going on. Be honest (in an age appropriate way) and let them know that the fact that their parents are splitting is not a reflection on them.
By the same card, YOU need to know that it’s not all about YOU. There are little people in your house – little eyes and ears that are always watching and listening. Be careful about the way that you and your ex-partner speak to and about each other. Even if you want to fight and scream with every cell in your body, you must be in control of yourself and demonstrate to your children that it’s possible to be amicable and respectful even when you disagree.
A Place To Call Home
One of the flow-on impacts of getting a divorce with kids is a shift in living arrangements. This can manifest in a number of problematic ways.
You’ll need to ensure that the children feel safe, comfortable and welcome at both houses. If they are attending childcare, kindy or school this may well mean they need ‘double ups’ of things at each house. Children who move between houses often appear at school flustered having forgotten something at the wrong house. Try to anticipate this and stop this school-based anxiety before it starts.
Follow My Lead
There’s a theory when it comes to separation and divorce called ‘Bird Nesting’. It’s not always practical in every situation but part of it may well apply to you.
Basically, when ‘bird nesting’ the children stay in the family home and the adults swap in and out. This provides consistency, autonomy and makes the children feel slightly more in control of their situation.
Realistically, that’s not going to work for many families. But parts of it might. One way to manage the effects of divorce on children is to ask them to be involved in decision making processes. Rather than flat-out dictating “You will stay with me one week and your father the next”, try and be a bit more flexible with it. The arrangement doesn’t have to be set in stone from the very beginning. Perhaps trial a few different models and allow your child or children to have their voices be heard about what they prefer.
None Of Your Business
This one can be tricky.
Other people will have their opinions about what went on in your marriage and will want their opinions heard when it comes to your separation and divorce. They’re entitled to think what they want, of course, but when it comes to voicing those opinions around your kids?
SHUT. IT. DOWN.
One of the most negative effects of divorce on children can be when relatives and family friends ‘pile on’ and they start to hear all about how bad or horrible mum or dad is.
Put yourself in their little shoes. Imagine if you went into a house filled with people who talked horribly about one of your parents and then you went back to see that maligned parent that evening. You’d feel a range of emotions. You might feel confused, angry, betrayed or guilty.
If the people around your children can’t keep their opinions to themselves, then it’s in the best interest of your children to ask them to remove themselves until they’re able to show more control.
All Hands On Deck
Let your children’s schools know. They don’t need to know every nitty-gritty detail, but just knowing that ‘home life is changing’ is enough for educators to be aware and watch for changes. They’ll be more patient and understanding and will be able to report back to you with any concerns.
Controlling the effects of divorce on children
It’s going to be tough and there are going to be tears. However, with careful planning and respectful communication, this is a life stage that can be navigated and there may well be a happy outcome waiting for you all just around the corner. Take care of yourself.
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