Have you and your spouse battled over the decision of divorce? Are you having disagreements about what to do? Have you tried to work “it” out while at a loss of love and respect? Has it come to divorcing each other as you or your spouse filed for divorce? Have you wondered what to say or do for your child or children? Are you struggling with your emotions as to how you are going to protect them from your own pain let alone their pain? Have you thought through time and time again about what you are going to tell your child about your divorce? Is there still a lot of arguments and disagreements between you and your spouse as to child custody issues?
From the first day of parenthood, you and your partner worked to keep suffering, uncertainty, and heartbreak away from your children. But the emotional distress between you guys has led you to a final, difficult decision. Your marriage is over. And it’s time to tell your kids. The divorce will change your lives and, for a time, make the end of your marriage a painful, difficult and confusing problem for your kids to face as well. Still, your family can emerge from this trying time with dignity, resiliency and hope.
Consider the following before, during and after “the talk”:
Carefully make a memory
Create an environment that is calm, focused, child-centered, and aware. Your children most likely will not forget the day they were told their parents are divorcing. To ensure that the shock of that moment does not become a traumatic memory, prepare yourself mentally as you give a lot of thought to how you break the news. Do your best to jointly bring your family together in a private, amiable and empathetic manner. Be prepared for a range of reactions and maintain an atmosphere of calm and restraint as it pertains to your own feelings. Pay a lot of attention to your body language and tone of voice. Your children will need to see that you are focused on being there for them physically and emotionally.
Communicate purposefully with effectiveness
Listen to what your child has to say. Allow him/her to vent their feelings while being respectful to you, your spouse, other sibling/s, as well as to him/herself. Embrace discussion while you express support and understanding. If writing out how they feel works better for them, invite the child to do so in a letter or list of thoughts and feelings. This can show that you care and are available for them. In listening to them you learn how they are taking to mean your announcement. Allow him/her to own their own thoughts and feelings as they try to get through these relational changes. Also, provide information in a timely manner that is honest, simple and clear. Weigh carefully your perception of incomplete disclosure. Research shows that disclosing bits and pieces of information or putting older children in the position of keeping “secrets” from younger children is ineffective and leads to distrust and resentment. Tell the truth in a child-appropriate way. Let them know that details will be provided as decisions are made. Avoid being flippant in your communication but rather show your child a strong sense of maturity (whether your spouse does or not) as you take responsibility for how you carry yourself. Keep from blaming, debating, or seeking to divide your kids’ loyalties between you and your spouse or any other family members. Your ability to maintain loving support will be vital to securing open, positive relationships with your children in the future.
Maintain a relationship of love and stability
Recognize your love and care for your child and his/her development. Take responsibility as an adult, as his/her adult parent showing that they are loved regardless of your relationship with their father or mother. Communicate love and appreciation toward and for them. Take the initiative to provide for your child guidance through this difficult moment and the months ahead. Above all, they need to know they are worthy of being cared for, are still a part of your life and they will be your child—one that is not lost in the divorce. Validate to them your parental bond and relationship you will continue to have (as long as you are willing to keep and maintain this with them).
Own your own stuff
Realize your choices are your choices. You are an adult able and willing to made decisions and your child does not control your choices. Communicate this with your child. Difficult decisions have challenges and ramifications to them that do affect both you and your child as well as the rest of the family system. Avoid blaming your child or your spouse for the decisions your make and the actions you do. Taking responsibility for you helps your child to see you as the parent they will look to respect, listen to and appreciate (although it may not be at this moment). If necessary, work through your own thoughts and feelings separately with another adult or counselor.
Kids get to stay kids. Don’t put them “in the middle”; they don’t have to choose between parents just because you’re choosing to live apart. Keep your child out of the middle of you and your spouse’s arguments. “Adult” conversation related to adult relationships, conflicts, disagreements, etc. stays between the adults. Avoid any tendency to do mental or emotional “dumping” on your child about your own pain, tragedies of your spouse’s decisions, or how much anger you may have with their father or mother or any other disturbing thoughts of yours. Your child is not your sounding board or your therapist. Remember—they are your children. Avoid getting your child or children to “side” with you against your spouse.
Recognize, plan, prioritize with patience and understanding. Although many changes have and are occurring, make it clear that life will go on. Let kids know that their lives are still filled with basic and familiar routines of bedtimes, mealtimes, and chore times, regardless of where they live. And yes, it will probably be different between your place and your (soon-to-be ex’s). Let kids be kids. They will still have activities they want to do and friends they want to be with and places they want to go to. Discuss these things with them and look to prioritize these things with them. They are still a part of you and their needs and wants matter. Be honest about lifestyle changes such as a parent moving out, reduced income, changing schools, or moving to another part of town, state or country. Be patient, caring, and understanding with your child as they sort out in their own way the whole process of change.
Develop a Co-Parenting strategy
Before the divorce is “final”, make it a point to set up a co-parenting strategy with your soon-to-be ex. Simply put, a plan of action as to logistics, times and places of child events, medical issues, changes in schedules, etc. Set aside your differences and focus on the needs and wants of your child. Communicate with your ex just the facts and avoid putting any charge or intensity in your communication. Your kids will need you to remain a strong co-parenting unit especially after the “dust” of the divorce settles down. As hard as it may be, sit down with your ex and make a commitment to set boundaries about your new relationship as co-parents. If your ex simply won’t be part of co-parenting, do it anyway. Take responsibility for what you can do. Be a respectable, loving, honorable parent and invite your ex to be part of the co-parenting for your children’s well-being. Be careful with your own attitude and how you come across. Recognize that you have a duty and responsibility as a parent to parent your child whether you are married or not and whether your ex cooperates or not. You may need to compromise “how” you do things without compromising your values and beliefs.
We here at Pathways Counseling Services are private, compassionate, and supportive ready to help you address your concerns not only for your child but for you as well. Our counselors are educated and experienced with diverse backgrounds, styles, and approaches to meet your counseling needs. You are of worth, unique to be valued and understood by a caring professional.
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