Divorce is never easy, but it becomes even more complicated when children are involved. Factors like your child's age, maturity, and personal life can all affect how they handle your divorce, making it incredibly difficult to predict how the dissolution of your marriage will affect your family.
Understanding common ways children deal with divorce can help you prepare and support your child during the divorce process. In turn, you can lay the foundation for a healthier, happier family dynamic moving past your divorce.
How to Talk with Your Kids About Divorce
An article by Vice explored how, even well into adulthood, most people can remember the exact moment their parents told them they were getting divorced. It's a moment that may stick with your kid for the rest of their life.
How you announce your divorce sets the tone for the rest of the divorce process, and handling the moment well can go a long way toward helping your child deal with the divorce.
We strongly suggest speaking with a family counselor about your divorce. They can help you formulate a way to announce the dissolution of your marriage to your child. In the meantime, here are a few tips:
- Make a script. You and your partner should know what you're going to say in advance.
- Present a united front (if possible). If your child feels like the divorce is something the whole family can work through together, it will help them feel supported. By collaborating with your partner, you also prevent your child from feeling like they have to "choose a side" in the divorce, which is important.
- Even if you can't present a united front, you and your ex should both make it clear that you support your child.
You should expect your child to react strongly to the news. They might be angry. They may scream, cry, or say nothing at all. Regardless, the divorce will probably impact them emotionally in some way.
Again, working with a family counselor can help your child process the divorce. Therapy aside, you and your spouse should focus on supporting your child, even if they are lashing out at you. Divorce isn't easy for anyone. At the end of the day, the more you can be supportive and show your love to your child, the easier it will be for them to handle the divorce.
Know Your Child
Every child is different. A huge number of variables play into how your kid processes your divorce. Their age, maturity, and personal life will all affect how they handle the divorce.
To help your child and family deal with the divorce healthily, you should:
- Notify other mentor figures (teachers, coaches, etc.) in your child's life of the divorce. Children often become depressed when their parents split, leading to worse grades, abnormal behavior, disinterest in activities like sports, etc. Building a support network around your child will ensure that they have a shoulder to lean on even when they're not at home.
- Be prepared to answer questions. A lot of them. Questions your child will probably ask may include:
- Who they'll live with,
- if the divorce is their fault,
- whether the parents will move,
- whether they'll need to change schools,
- how the parents will handle holidays,
- whether the parents still love them,
- whether the parents still love each other.
- You and your partner should be prepared to answer all of these questions, no matter how awkward it may be.
- Encourage your child to express their emotions. Do not punish your child for reacting strongly to the divorce—you and your partner probably won't be on your best behavior, either. Divorce is an incredibly stressful experience. Focus on supporting and loving your child, and don't hesitate to bring in outside help from someone like a therapist.
- Be consistent. Maintaining a strong day-to-day foundation helps kids process divorce more easily. Keep taking them to soccer practice and helping them with their homework. Make time for regular family outings if you can.
Divorce is never easy, but being proactive and taking the right steps can help you and your family move toward a happier life post-divorce.