So you have decided to end your marriage? Surely you have good enough reasons for this important decision, but explaining that to your children might be one of the hardest things you will ever do. If you have ever heard of the "Butterfly Effect" (not the film), this would be the prime example of it.
This situation and how you handle it will affect your children's lives way beyond childhood. It is the early experiences that mold their character and shape their perception of the world around them.
No matter how many articles you have read beforehand, there is no easy way to do this. Prepare yourself for the worst and go in with a smile and tonnes of patience. There is lots of information and advice on the ways of looking after children through the divorce process; however, in an ideal scenario, you would team up with your spouse and brainstorm how you would do it together.
Every child is different, and only you know how yours might react. You should also take into consideration your child's age and factor that into your explanation and the way you go about it. Imagine how hard it is for you. Well, for your child it is a problem of a catastrophic scale. They will typically start wondering if it is their fault and whether the parents do not love them anymore. Make sure that you make it as clear as possible that it is NOT the child's fault. For a younger offspring, a fairytale approach might be suitable. At the end of the day, not every love story ends in a happily ever after, and that's okay.
It is entirely up to you how you justify the divorce to your children, but consoling them and telling them about how much you love them is crucial. You might have to face a myriad of questions from your panicking offspring. Prepare yourself for some of the more obvious ones and first let the child get it off their chest. Encourage them to talk honestly about their feelings and be sympathetic. Help your children see positives. There are going to be two lots of every holiday, more quality time with parents, and other post-divorce perks.
Children tend to fantasize about their parents getting together. They might even threaten you to do so. They might make life a living hell for your new partners. It is up to you to manage it. As mentioned earlier, loving and empathetic is all you should be. It will take your children many years to understand the divorce from your point of view. Also, it might be a good idea to hold off bringing any new "parent" into your children's lives. Give them time to come to terms with all that's happening.
No matter how amicable a divorce, it is quite likely that you will be living separately. In the worst case scenario, you might need the help of law to decide who the children stay with, so do make sure you are up to date on the laws involved.
It is way too common for emotions to get in the way and an occasional fight to break out, which is absolutely normal -- we are only human, after all. However, how you act around your children after the divorce will affect your relationship with them. Do not be that parent who talks badly about their spouse. Your children do not see either of your faults, so do not take this opportunity to parade them in front of them.
Some parents get jealous or start playing tug-of-war with their children. As you can imagine, eventually that will yield disastrous results. Take this opportunity to make your relationship with your children stronger. They need you even more than ever.
Now that the storm is over, it is time for everyone to adjust to a new way of living. A consistent routine might go a long way in ensuring your child’s mental stability. Try not to skip on that one-to-one quality time, as it is crucial for maintaining you relationship. Take a keen interest in their life and soon enough those silly stories from the schoolyard will grow into intimate secrets and teenage revelations.
Keep your eye out for a change in behavior. It might be that your child is growing up or it might be a result of your divorce. Inquire more about your child's performance and behavior in school. Read up as much as you can on how divorce can psychologically impact a child, and seek help if you notice your child getting anxious, depressed, or angry. Older kids and teens may be vulnerable to risky behaviors such as substance abuse, skipping school, and defiant acts.
If by the time you go in for that "big talk" with your child you forget everything you have ever read, just remember to keep your cool, listen to all they have to say, and simply show how much you love them. Good luck!
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Certified Divorce Financial Analyst
Business Valuators / CPAs