A child is likely to experience an array of emotions as a result of divorce. Siblings raised in the same household can and will likely have different experiences and reactions to their parents’ divorce. This is very common. It is important to be mindful, as a parent, that your actions and reactions to your spouse/ex-spouse can either reduce your child’s stress during this transition or can be a source of your child’s stress. Below is a list of ten things your child wants and needs you to know to help them (and yourself) adapt and cope with this chapter of life.
1. “You aren’t a ‘bad’ parent.”
Just because your marriage is ending doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent. Good parenting and marriage are not mutually exclusive. You are still capable of being a “good” parent no matter your relationship status. Life during and after separation/divorce will be an adjustment to the entire family; but it is better for children to see their parents separate and happy than together and miserable.
2. “I need to feel loved and secure during this process.”
Children need consistency and security. It is important to reassure your child that he or she is loved by you and your spouse. Be mindful that your child is not the one who is divorcing your spouse. Even though your relationship is changing with your spouse it does not mean that your child’s relationship should change with you or your spouse. Reassure your children that divorce is not their fault and does not change how you feel about them; this will help reduce anxiety and fear. Maintaining similar schedules, such as bedtimes, in both households may also provide reassurance.
3. “I am not an adult and shouldn’t be treated as one.”
Every person gets one childhood, so preserve this for your child. Issues regarding your legal case should not be discussed with your children, leave these for the adults. When you need to discuss your case, call your attorney. Adult issues also include the anger you may feel towards your spouse or the pain that you are experiencing as a result of your marriage ending. If an extra-marital affair occurred, do not discuss or argue about this in front of your children. When you need to vent, call your therapist or a friend (make sure you aren’t within earshot of your child).
4. “I will be okay.”
Children are resilient. This is one chapter of life and with love and support from you, your child will be okay. If your child is struggling or your child is internalizing the divorce, do not be afraid to seek third party help from a therapist.
5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
If you say that you are going to be at your child’s soccer game, make sure you show up. A way of reassuring your child that he or she is important and loved is showing them they can still count on you. Your child is going to see how your relationship with your spouse/ex-spouse has changed and naturally wonder if how you feel about them will or has changed. So, it is important to manage your child’s expectations and reassure them that, even though your relationship with them may look different because you no longer live in the same house, they can still count on you to show up and keep your word.
6. “Don’t put me in the middle.”
Don’t ask your children where they want to live or who they’d rather live with. This is not fair to your child. This question puts your child in the middle of conflict and forces them to choose one parent over the other. Also, don’t use your children as the messenger between you and your spouse/ex-spouse. Your child is not a mediator or a phone service. Set time aside at night or communicate via email or text message any information that needs to be shared with the other parent. Also do not bad-mouth or speak negatively about your ex. This can be difficult in some circumstances, however, by doing so you are putting your child in an unfair position and can cause children to feel they need to side with one parent.
7. “Be mindful of my emotions and needs.”
Children will have questions about what is going on during the separation and divorce process. Answer them with an age-appropriate response and be honest. If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, that is okay. Instead, tell your child that you and your spouse/ex-spouse are working out the details and they need not worry. Try to alleviate any sadness, fear and/or anger. When your kids are older and they visit multiple homes and multiple sets of grandparents, aunts and cousins for the holidays this can be stressful for them. Try to be flexible with your time to enable your children to schedule and manage the holidays without added anxiety or guilt.
8. “I see, hear and perceive more than you think.”
When exchanging your children with your ex, they will be able to pick up on your body language and how you and your ex interact. For example, if your ex says hello to you and you ignore your ex or glare at your ex in return, this is not a good example to set for your children. In child custody cases, the court looks to find what is in the best interest of the child. Be mindful of this standard and interact with your ex accordingly. This standard helps you to put things in perspective. As your marriage ends look to what is best for you children as the decisions and choices you are making not only affect you but also your child.
9. "I want to see and spend time with both parents.”
Absent abuse and the advice of your attorney, do not prevent your child from seeing the other parent. If your ex-spouse is behind on child support or you have unresolved anger towards your ex-spouse, you need to put these issues aside, as hard as that may be. Neither are reasons to prevent your child from seeing the other parent. Child support and custody/visitation are separate issues. You cannot and should not hold your child as ransom to receive child support.
10. “Work hard to stay in my life.”
When you and your ex-spouse decide to call it quits, it does not give you the green light to call it quits as a parent. Your child needs you and depends on you. A divorce is a divorce from your spouse, not your children. Choosing to co-parent can be hard because you are not always going to agree with your ex. However, remember you are not co-parenting for your ex; you are co-parenting for the well-being of your child.
At Hatcher Law Group, we are dedicated to providing you with exceptional legal services. Our attorneys work diligently to simplify the complexities of each case, alleviating unnecessary stress and ensuring each client’s experience is as seamless as possible. Schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys today.