So, you have arrived at the difficult decision to end your marriage, a decision with which you struggled. How will you break the news to your son or daughter? How will you feel when you do not see your child every day? How will your child feel when he or she does not see you each day? What can you do to assuage the emotional impact the divorce will have on your child?
Nothing can make divorce easy for a family, but these five tips can make the journey easier.
- Keep it amicable. Your child is one half you and one half your spouse. If you intentionally, or even unintentionally, disparage your spouse, your child may feel as though you are disparaging a part of him or her. In addition, during their parents’ divorce, children assume the onerous role of arbiter. Acutely cognizant of the deep dislike Mom has for Dad or Dad has for Mom, they tell each parent what they think that parent wants to hear because they do not want either parent to be upset. This can be extraordinarily damaging for a child, and have far-reaching impact on them well into adulthood. No matter how much you dislike your soon-to-be ex-spouse, it is your responsibility and obligation to protect your child.
- Be consistent. Consistent routines help your child feel secure during what may be a traumatic time. Ideally, routines will be similar in both homes. For example, nap times and meal times should happen around the same time of day. It is equally crucial to adhere to a structured parenting plan. If the parents disagree on what is best for their children, consider seeking out the services of a mediator or other neutral third party who can help. The Our Family Wizard and Talking Parents websites are designed to minimize conflict by facilitating communication between divorced or separated parents.
- Be vigalint. Divorce can be a major life stressor for children of all ages – even adult children. Children have difficulty expressing their emotions can experience physical symptoms including headaches, abdominal pain, body aches, poor sleep and fatigue. For younger children, red flags include acting out, escalating temper tantrums and attention-seeking behavior. Older children and teenagers may become withdrawn, experience weight changes, increased anxiety, decreased school performance, run-ins with the law and experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Children do not typically experience such issues when the parents make efforts to amicably co-parent and support the child’s relationship with the other parent. Any red flags should prompt a visit to your pediatrician for a counseling referral.
- Be honest. Children lack the maturity to fully comprehend the nuances of relationships. While the demise of a relationship may be more attributable to one party than the other, most often, each party contributes. The child, however, might come to believe that the divorce is her or his fault. Discuss the situation with your child. Be open and honest. Consider the age of the child and their level of understanding. For toddlers, for instance, you might say, “Mommy and Daddy have decided that we are going to be living apart. We’ve decided that is what is going to work best for our family. You did nothing wrong and we both love you very much.”
- Consider therapy. Family therapists can help parents work through the family dynamics, learn to communicate peacefully with each other, work on their co-parenting and explain the situation to their children. They can also help children deal with any red flags, such as behavior issues or suicidal thoughts.
Many people decide to stay married for their children. It may be more damaging to live in one household with two parents who are always arguing, than to live in two separate, peaceful households. Ultimately, you must decide what is best for you and your family. There are a number of resources available to anyone considering or going through a divorce. Having a little help can lead to a more intelligent decision – a decision which should not be made lightly.
Sarah Intelligator is a Holistic Divorce and Family Law Attorney who practices in Beverly Hills. Visit her online at LAfamilylawpractice.com. Joel Warsh is an integrative pediatrician with a practice in Beverly Hills. Learn more at GatorMD.com.