Getting a Divorce and your Children

I just learned that a couple friend of mine have decided to go their separate ways.

This was in the pipeline for about a year or so but, as you probably know, it can take a while to go from wanting a divorce to actually filing for divorce.

This couple have got 3 children, two in high school and a little one who is just about to finish her primary education.  I had a chance to sit down with each parent separately, unplanned, and what transpired was that they both had very similar questions, worries and anxieties around the children.

I have covered some of their questions below on getting a divorce and the answers that I gave.

  • How do we tell the children we’re getting divorced?

Considering the age of the children, I would be surprised if they don’t already know or suspect that something is up (turns out that this was the case) so all they may need now is confirmation.  When you decide to let them know, if at all possible, try the following:

  1. Tell them when you’re altogether.  So basically as a family.  If your partner is reluctant to do so then let him/her know when you will be telling the children and what you will be saying.
  2. Agree on what you will say – don’t blame each other.  It’s the last thing they need to hear and it doesn’t help them in anyway.
  3. Don’t make a special day out it by taking them to the cinema then dinner.  Just tell them at a time and environment that is familiar to them.
  4. Tell them during the day as opposed to just before bedtime
  5. Use age appropriate words and vocabulary
  • What about school?

Do let the school know by all means.  They spend most of their waking hours at school so they will need to be taken care of there too.  If the children can remain in the same school and social environment it would be best for them.  If you know that this will be the case, let them know.  The familiarity of some aspect of their now shaken world can go along way in helping them cope with the breakup of their family.

  • How can we tell if they are coping or not?

Younger children up to approximately the age of 9 years may need more parental care and attention while a 13 year old and above may feel a sudden rush to be independent and self-caring.  There can however be signs that things are not as they should be despite the child’s age and these included:

  1. Changes in behaviour. Your child may display aggressive or anger-related behaviour.  You may find that your toddler, pre-teen or teenager is very quick to anger.  They have a lot going on for them and may at times lack the vocabulary needed which makes them even more frustrated and unable to cope with difficult or confusing emotions.  I have worked with parents whose children have gone from being non-aggressive to being loud, verbally abusive and at times physically violent too.  Don’t let it get to this, especially if you’re dealing with a teenager.
  2. Changes in sleeping.  Are they sleeping more than usual or less then they used to?  Have bedtimes become a nightmare?
  3. Changes in eating behaviour.  Is your child eating more or less than he/she used to?
  4. Have they become withdrawn and want to spend more time on their own or have lost interest in activities that used to interest them such as sports and any other extra-curricular activities.
  5. Are they just generally sad, weeping and/or whiny?  Applies mostly to younger children.

If you see any of the above in your child and the behaviour lasts for more than 6 weeks, do get some professional help or tips on what to do to help them cope better.

Also remember, your own reaction to your child’s change in behaviour can determine how the rest of the journey goes.

  • What can we do when helping children cope with the divorce?

Best thing you can do is really to observe them as close as possible.  Look out for those moments when sadness comes into their lives even for a couple of minutes.  Hug, kiss and show them as much affection as possible and keep reminding them that you are there for them.

  1. Let me know there’s nothing they could have done to prevent the divorce.
  2. Acknowledge that they are hurting and this is a difficult time for them.  Do this over and over again but make sure it’s well timed.  If you make part of the many children of divorce in today’s world, share this information with them and talk to them about your experience.
  3. Keep them out of adult issues.  This is cannot be stressed enough.  Don’t make them your spy, messenger or mediator.  They need you to be the parent in the room protecting them as much as possible.  They are hurting enough as it is without being told how much daddy is a jerk for not paying the mortgage or how mummy is nasty because she is now dating Mr Brown the maths teacher.
  4. Answer their questions to the best of your knowledge without getting into the gory details of how mummy and Mr Brown used to sneak around or how daddy has been busy hiding money in the Cayman islands.  Just let them know that it’s true that mummy is seeing Mr Brown, period. And yes, there are some financial issues but daddy, mummy and the solicitors are dealing with it all.
  5. Making false promises will not benefit them in any way such as that you and your partner will get back together or that this is just a trial separation.  It is what it is.  There’s no going back.  Let me know in the nicest possible way so they don’t spend the rest of their time waiting for that reconciliation moment.
  6. Keep their social world as familiar as possible.  If they used to spend one weekend a month with the grandparents then keep this in place.  Sports and any other activities should remain in place if at all possible.  Change as little as possible.
  7. Keep arguments and conflicts to a minimum.
  8. Don’t disrespect one another no matter how much you’re tempted to.
  9. Don’t speak disparagingly about your partner to your children or within their earshot – they don’t need to hear that.  It does them no good at all.

When divorce happens, EVERYONE is affected including grandparents, friends and other family members.

But if handled properly, this watershed moment to your child, will be just that – a moment that happened and was handled properly and carefully but the adults in the room.

Look after yourself by getting your support system in place – don’t go it alone.

Really truly consider Family Mediation first as opposed to going straight to the solicitors.

All the best.


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