Therapy in Chester, NJ
This the season for romance, however, if you are getting divorced, chocolates and roses might have been the last thing you were thinking about this past Valentine’s Day. All that’s been on your mind is how you’re going to manage to tell your children that you and your spouse are splitting up. How can you be expected to keep it together in front of your kids when you feel like your heart is breaking in two? If you are preparing to tell your children about your upcoming divorce, you might have a million questions flying through your head. How will my relationship issues affect my kids? What do I even say, or not say? How are they going to react?
Children are impressionable, this we all know - their environments growing up influence their psycho-social well-being and behavior throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Though you may fear that divorce will have a negative impact on their development, consider what an unhealthy and unhappy marriage would do. Your children could learn poor communication skills and poor frustration tolerance, for example. Divorce could be the better option for your children, especially if you and your spouse are as civilized as possible during the process. When approaching the topic with your kids, it is best, to be honest, and open the floor up for any questions that they might have (now and later – it may take the time to process). Answer their questions as simply as possible, taking care to not share too much information. For instance, telling your 12-year-old son that you have lost all sexual/romantic attraction for one another is something that you should refrain from sharing. Instead, you can explain that you have begun to grow apart and no longer see eye-to-eye on important life matters. At this point, it is crucial to stress that both of your love for your children has not changed and never will and that you will both continue to be in their lives and support them no matter what happens. It is important to be sure that your kids know and understand that the divorce is not their fault and they could not have done anything to prevent this outcome. Stressing your love for your kids and removing any blame from their shoulders should be your priority in all conversations moving forward.
Along these same lines, it is important to present as a united team, not putting the blame on your spouse or allowing the conversation to turn confrontational. If your children see you arguing about the divorce, it may make them feel like they have to take sides or will be stuck in the middle of the two of you. Try to avoid talking negatively about your spouse or the divorce with your children to prevent them from developing a tainted image of their parent. They have the right to love both of you. Also, all of your communication with your spouse should be directly between the two of you, especially if you are already living at separate households, steering clear of using your children as messengers.
Keep in mind that your approach with your children should be age-appropriate so that they are hearing information that is in line with their comprehension and maturity levels. For example, you could explain that Mommy and Daddy aren’t going to live together anymore to your 5-year-old, yet use the word divorce with your teen knowing he will have an understanding of that concept. Additionally, your child's temperament and personality should be considered in terms of your approach to this news. It might make the process more difficult or overwhelming for your timid daughter if you have a large family meeting rather than speak with her individually. Or, your more practical-minded teen might have questions about who will attend her soccer games, where and with whom she will live, or the terms of your custody – anticipating her possible reaction based on her personality might help you feel more prepared for the conversation.
Though it may take a considerable amount of time for your kids to adjust to this new family structure, they will be better off if you and your partner are amicable when you’re dropping them off with the other parent for the weekend. When it comes to children and divorce, you can’t be too sensitive regarding their feelings, and you can’t stress enough that you both love them. This is a difficult time for everyone and you need to remember to care of yourself during this time too, which could mean extra self-care or therapy.
If you or your children are having difficulty with divorce, I am here to help!
P.S. We will be facilitating a support group called F.I.T. for Kids (Families in Transition) to help children/teens cope better with the challenges of their family splitting up.
Risa Simpson-Davis, LCSW
At Modern Family Counseling, LLC.