I typically start seeing divorcing women at the stage when they are considering divorce. They are early on in the process and trying to decide if their marriage can be salvaged. Some of the first questions I get if there are children involved go something like this:
“How will the children be affected? If we decide to do it, how do we tell them?”
Generally speaking, how the children will be affected depends on their age. Each child is different but research shows that the age of the child plays a role in how they respond. In a future blog post, I will share what the research shows based on age. There is one commonality with all children… how you and your spouse handle it is incredibly important. For kids, most of the trauma of divorce lies in how well you get along with your spouse during the process. Ideally, if you are able to handle it amicably and keep your sights focused on the kids, they handle it better. Easier said than done, right?
This is a topic near and dear to my heart based on my own experience with divorcing parents. A bit about my story… my parents divorced when I was 18 years old. My mother moved out the day before my senior year of high school started. They did EVERYTHING wrong. I mean everything. My father turned his anger towards me and, at one point, threatened to change the locks and throw my things in the front yard (I was living with him since he had the house). My mother put me in the middle of their divorce by talking badly about my father and forcing me to communicate to him on her behalf. My college tuition became a bone of contention between them. Not only did it feel as though the carpet got pulled out from under me, but there were times that I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear. I should have been in therapy, instead I self-medicated by partying excessively and acting out. My parents were good parents. My father was an alcoholic in recovery and the years after he got sober were happy ones. They just weren’t equipped or had the resources to handle the divorce in a healthier way. This experience is why I do this work.
I am dedicated to the children of divorce and doing my part to help facilitate compassionate, child-centered divorces one family at a time. There is a process to get to the point where you actually tell the children and it is important that you take things slowly. I will describe this method in detail in a future blog post, so keep your eye on my website.
When you get to the point where you actually have a conversation with the children, it is exceedingly important that you present a united front and not point fingers at each other. Some sample terminology includes:
“Mom and Dad have grown apart over the years and have decided to live apart. We both love you and that will never change. Our family is changing form and we want to make this as easy on you as possible.”
Children, no matter what their age, will immediately show concern over how their world might change. They also oftentimes blame themselves for the failure of the marriage. In addition, they most likely have heard some horror stories in school about high-conflict divorces that their friends have experienced with their parents.
In general, the initial conversation with the children is usually short with more questions coming later. I really like the book, Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastle Way by M. Gary Neumann and Patricia Romanowski to help prepare yourself for questions that might come up. You also might want to be prepared for your children to start asking if you are ever going to get divorced before anyone actually knows you are considering taking this step. Kids are very intuitive and may already sense something isn’t right between the two of you.
Divorcing with kids is a scary proposition. Please know that you are modeling for you kids how to be in a relationship right now, just as your parents modeled for you. It is better for your children to see you happy, healthy and fulfilled in divorce with a stable, united co-parenting relationship with your former spouse than miserable, depressed and disconnected in your marriage. By all means, explore every option, including therapy, to repair your marriage. If repair isn’t possible, think about how the state of your marriage is affecting your children.