Before the Divorce-Part II
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have for over
twenty years dealt with parents and children who are experiencing
some phase of relationship and usually family dissolution. This
is Part II of a three part series of articles on what parent's might
do before separating and/or divorcing, written from a child's point
of view. Please read Part I before reading this article.
When parents finally settle on a course of action, they will
need to actually sit down and tell the child(ren) what's coming.
Before doing so, consider the following points:
1) Try to have both parents present for the discussion.
2) Timing may or may not play a role. However, assuming it is,
pick a relaxed time of day, when there are no impending
3) Use simple language. Be straightforward.
4) Acknowledge that it's a sad situation and that your child is
likely to experience big, painful feelings. Allow your
child to cry, become angry, or have other natural reactions.
Have empathy and be sensitive.
5) Show your children some of your feelings. The trick is to be
congruent (genuinely showing some of the parent's real
feelings); however, don't overdo it in front of the children.
Children need to know the parents will still take care of them
and are not compromised, but at the same time children need to
know they can emote and that parents will accept their feelings.
Children will, to some extent, follow the parent's example.
Stay calm if this is possible, but also be real.
6) Let kids know that you and your soon-to-be-ex-partner love them
and will keep them safe, whether you're together or not.
7) Give the children some general reasons for the split-up.
8) Be clear about general and some specific expectations, post
separation. For example, talk about the new living
arrangements or visitation schedules, if known. Who is going
to live, where? Is anyone leaving the home? Kids need some
transition time and later will ask much deeper and more
extensive questions about why the parents are separating.
Don't share adult problems with a child. Stay with the children
until their first round of reactions and questions are done.
9) Avoid blaming the other parent even if one parent really thinks
the other was the cause. Now is the time to present a
"unified front" to the children, which is why talking, as adults,
was so important before approaching the children.
Can this be done amicably? My experience as a counselor is that
most parents can muster enough courage to try this and at least patially
succeed, once. After that, parents find it too hard to do again with
anything resembling aplomb. That ought to tell us how hard the
experience is for children, but this usually isn't enough to motivate
parents to keep trying. Planning is crucial and probably parents are
only going to get one clear chance to communicate about this very
important even to their children in the presence of the other parent.
Considering what will happen to the family and the children after the
divorce, it is paramount that parents really, really try to do this
right the first time. There are exceptions, of course, and sometimes
divorces "just happen" as parents "naturally" and gradually separate,
forming their own nests away. Unfortunately, this is very rare, so
this treatise is intended for folks who have the "usual" experience of
divorcing and having to tell the kids.
Continued in Part III. For the complete ebook on this subject
and a related ebook ("Child Visitation and the Formation of Self-Esteem"),
follow the links below.