Dealing with Divorce: 4 Tips to Help Kids Handle the Split

I am pretty sure that very few married couples are evolved enough to be as amicable as Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were when they announced their “conscious uncoupling.”  Most of the people I know, including myself, faced anger, grief, sadness and lingering bitterness, and resentment during divorce.

When our marriages or relationships end, we do our best to be mature and place our kids in front of our own pain. But picking up the pieces can be harder than we even dared to imagine. There are those times where we may look in the mirror, and barely recognize the person that we have become.

As the adult, it’s our responsibility to help our children navigate their way through the confusing period when everything that they have come to rely on and believe in suddenly gets pulled out from underneath them.  And it’s a mistake to think that our children are either too young to understand what’s happening, or old enough to handle it.  The fact is, divorce is hard for everyone, no matter how old they are.

Creating Boundaries

During a divorce, our primary goal should be to create healthy boundaries for our self and our own emotions so that we can establish conflict-free communication with our children.  We need it for our own sanity, and our children need it in order not to feel as if they are in the middle of our battles.  It’s important to constantly remind ourselves that our little people are not yet equipped to handle our adult problems. Our job is to be the adult and to leave them to be the child.

That means if we know we are likely going to end up in a screaming match with our ex in a face-to-face meeting, we need to find a means of communication that will make the exchange as drama-free as possible. Whether it be by email, texting, or over the phone, our primary goal should be to make things as amicable as possible in order to protect our children’s emotional well-being.

Parents often act more childish than their own youngsters in the throes of a split. Of course none of us are prepared for the anger, hurt, and disappointment we feel as we wonder how this person that we once loved could suddenly feel like a complete stranger. Our children feel the same emotions.

Helping Our Kids Adjust

Just as with any kind of trauma, there are stages that we must go through. The death of a relationship is no different.  Here are some ways that we can help our kids deal with the loss they’re facing and help them transition into a new life:

1. Remove the Issue of Blame

It’s not uncommon for children to assume that they are responsible for their parents split.  They may feel like they did something “bad” to cause it. So it is important that we remind them often that we love them and that they are not to blame for our “adult” problems.  Sometimes, our children may internalize the sense of blame and develop a need to be “perfect.” Over time, they may even feel as if they are flawed and unlovable, so we have to keep assuring them that we love them unconditionally.

2. Don’t Vent

Our children are not only dealing with their own tonic of mixed emotions, but also with the feelings that we may be inappropriately venting around them.  Since we’re not privy to what the other parent is doing or saying, our little ones may begin to feel like they have to pick sides out of loyalty – and that is way too much pressure for our kids. 

If we’re angry, we need to physically walk out of the room, mentally tape our mouth shut, or put a rubber band around our wrist and snap it when we catch ourselves complaining about what a “no good ___” our child’s mother or father is.  It’s not our kids place to be our shrink, so we have to learn to keep it to ourselves until we can share it with another adult.

Also remember, while you may have just lost your life’s partner, that doesn’t mean your child has to give up their parent.  Try to remain logical when it comes to this.  Your partner may not have been the right fit for you, but your child still probably has some amazing memories, hopes, and desires relating to both of you.  Don’t dash their dreams of having two amazing parents – after all, your child is made up of you two equally, and any negativity you express can be taken personally as well.

3. Allow Them to Express Their Feelings

We should always encourage our kids to talk through their painful feelings.  If they come back from visiting the other parent and seem withdrawn or are being defiant, help them attach words to their feelings.  Empower them with the knowledge that it’s perfectly okay to be “sad” or “mad.”  Saying things like, “I am also sad that Mommy and Daddy are living in different houses,” helps our children identify their sadness with our own, giving them permission to accept how they feel, and helping them navigate their way through this confusing and unsettling time.

4. Commiserate, but Don’t Judge 

If our child is stood up by their other parent or otherwise disappointed, we shouldn’t make excuses for that parent, but instead help our child get in touch with their feelings.  “I am sorry that your Mom/Dad didn’t show up today, I know that you are disappointed, and you have a right to feel that way.” But don’t judge them either. Picking up the phone in a heated rage and calling the other parent in front of our children to confront them ends up causing more confusion, pain, and anxiety. You don’t want to add to the feeling of rejection – plus, you don’t want to open the doors for your child to pit you two against each other for their own benefit.

Divorce is one of the most challenging things that a family will ever have to face. While it may hurt us, it is much more devastating for our kids. Over time, with a lot of support and communication, our children eventually learn to redefine what “family” means to them, and everyone finds a way to go on with the business of living.

Are you going through a divorce?  What’s your plan for helping the kids to transition?

Tags : family   relationships   marriage   divorce   healthy boundaries   

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