Divorce isn’t only hard on the couple separating. If there are kids in the family, they are often more distressed by the changing shape of the family than the parents are.
Every divorce affects the kids, but their outcome depends a lot on the way each parent handles themselves.
Kids will be angry, sad, frustrated, scared, guilty, confused and more. But there is potential for them to come out of it with good stress coping skills and a higher tolerance for change. The right attitude from parents during this time can help children grow and improve as people.
Quick tips for parents in a divorce
Keep the kids in the front of your mind during interactions with your ex-partner.
- Conflict and legal talk should stay away from the kids.
- Try to keep their regular routines intact.
- Avoid oversharing with the kids. The details of your separation can be a huge burden on them.
- Don’t estrange one parent from the kids. They still need both parents to stabilize their lives.
Always remember, your kids aren’t your support system during a divorce. You are theirs.
Tell your kids together
As soon as you’re certain of your plans, talk to your kids.
Try to leave feelings of anger, guilt, or blame out of it. Work together (it might be hard, but it’s for the benefit of the kids) and practice what you plan to say before sitting down with them.
The message needs to be:
- The separation is not the kids’ fault. Most will think it’s their fault, so regular reassurance is important.
Kids don’t need to know all the reasons behind a divorce (especially if it involves blaming the other parent). It’s enough for them to understand what will change in their daily routine — and, just as important, what will not.
Divorce doesn’t always come when children are toddlers. Teen kids may be more in tune with what parents have been going through, and might have more questions based on what they overheard between parents in the house. .
Questions your kids might ask
- Who will I live with?
- Where will I go to school?
- Will I move?
- Where will each parent live?
- Where will we spend holidays?
- Will I still get to see my friends?
- Can I still go to camp this summer?
- Can I still do my favorite activities?
Honestly isn’t always easy when you don’t have all the answers or when kids are scared or guilty about what’s going on. But telling them what they need to know at that moment is always the right thing to do.
How to help your kids cope over the coming weeks, months and years
- Encourage honesty. Kids need to know their feelings are important to their parents.
- Help them put their feelings into words. Kids’ behavior can often clue you in to their feelings of sadness or anger. Take the time to listen, even if their feelings are difficult for you to hear.
- Validate their feelings. It’s important to encourage kids to get it all out before you start offering ways to make it better. Let kids know it’s also OK to feel happy or relieved or excited about the future.
- Offer support. Ask how you can help them feel better, and offer ideas like sitting at the park, walking around the neighbourhood, cuddling with a favourite stuffed animal.
You can also help your kids cope by staying healthy yourself. Separation and divorce is stressful for you too (obviously). That pressure may be amplified by custody, property, and financial issues, which can bring out the worst in people.
Get some exercise, spend time with friends, take up a new hobby, spend time in nature.
There is also no shame in getting help from a counselor or therapist. They can help you maintain healthy boundaries with your kids and offer guidance as you work through your feelings about your marriage.
Even if you feel hostile, don’t fight in front of the kids
Spending time in an environment of hostility and unresolved conflict puts a heavy burden on a child. Screaming, fighting, arguing, or violence has lasting impacts on children. These actions set bad examples for children, who don’t yet know how to form their own relationships
Talking with a mediator can help couples air their grievances and hurt to each other in a way that doesn’t harm their children. It may be difficult, but working together in this way will spare kids the hurt caused by continued bitterness and anger.
Arranging your new living situation
There are no hard and fast rules about your new living arrangements. Talking with a lawyer about custody and access can help determine what might work best for you, including:
- Sole custody for one parent.
- Joint custody where both legal and physical custody is shared.
- Joint custody where one parent can make authoritative decisions in certain medical or educational settings.
Whatever arrangement you choose, it’s important to avoid trying to win. For holidays, birthdays and vacations, stay focused on what’s best for the kids. Never ask the kids to choose.
Consistency across homes
As much as possible, both parents should work to keep routines and discipline the same in both households. Similar expectations about bedtimes, rules and homework will reduce anxiety, especially in younger children.
Divorce can be a major crisis for a family. But if you and your ex-partner can work together and communicate civilly for the benefit of your children, the original family unit will continue as a source of love and strength.
A family lawyer can help guide you through this time. It’s your first and last divorce, so you can’t be an expert. We help families just like yours come to fair and equitable agreements where the children can thrive in the new family unit.