Three things you can do to help your children prepare for a divorce
Going through a divorce is difficult, painful and stressful but even more so for your children. Preparing in advance can assist the children in going through this transitional period. It is important to keep in mind the best interests of the children and encourage your spouse to work with you as a co-parent in dealing with the children and keeping their bests interests as a priority.
Have a temporary plan and talk to the children together, if possible.
In preparation for this, it is helpful for the two of you to prepare a temporary plan, and agree as to what is going to be discussed with the children. For example, which parent is moving out and where; and the plan for the parent to regularly see the children. Once these preliminary decisions are made, then the first thing to do is to talk to the children together as the parents, to covey to them that you both are unified as parents and are both there to care for them and are concerned about their welfare. Of course you will want to explain that the decision to separate is an adult decision and it has nothing to with anything the children have said or done. Of course, what you say and how much, depends on the ages of the children. It may be helpful to explain that no one is to blame and that the children should feel free to love each parent fully without fear of betraying the other parent or feeling disloyal. Let the children understand that they will have a lot of different feelings (anxious, sad, angry, etc), and that this is normal. Both parents should encourage the children to express their feelings and let the children know you are both there for them. Be sure to express your love to them and how this will continue no matter what, and although you all will still be a family, it may look different. Keep an open line of communication for the children to come to you to discuss their feelings and prepare answers for questions they may ask.
Inform the children’s teachers and caretakers
Inform the children’s teachers and caregivers in advance and ask them to be sensitive and discreet about the situation so they understand should the child get upset or act out. The teachers and caretakers should not bring it up or discuss any details but be there to listen and support the child. Check to see if the school has any programs for children going through traumatic events. Here in Winter Park, many of the public schools have a “chill” program which is lead by a counselor. The children get together and can express their feelings in a group setting. All discussions and sharing is confidential for the benefit of the children as a safe place to vent and understand that they are not alone in going through a difficult time. If the school doesn’t have a program you may want to consider a family counselor.
Maintain appropriate boundaries with your child and keep your child out of the relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse.
During this time, you may feel lonely, and angry at the other parent. Do not lean on your children as your emotional support system. Remember, you are the parent and need to be there for your children during this time. If you need an outlet, find a reputable therapist or divorce group, where you can vent or discuss issues and get the support you need. Do not discuss the specifics of the divorce, your finances, and negotiations as to agreements in mediation or litigation. If there are conversations that need to take place with the spouse, do so out of ear range of the children. Do not ever disparage the other parent, even if you are hurt, angry and feel you have been done wrong. Whatever you do, do not show them papers or discuss what happened in court or mediation. These are adult matters, and this information will only upset and confuse them, and as you will find out, going through a divorce is a process, and until there is a signed agreement, negotiations may continue and positions may change. Also, as difficult as it may be, do not disparage a third party who may enter the scene (if your spouse is dating), and do your best to keep your own personal life (dating and love life) private and to yourself. Your children do not need to be exposed to more conflict and confusion during this time.
Going through a divorce is scary for children so it is important for the parties to keep their children’s best interests at heart throughout the process. Remember it isn’t so much what happens to you, but how you respond. Always do your best to take the high road, even if your spouse is not. By implementing these three things, you will be making great strides in helping your children get through the divorce.