Divorce or separation is difficult for the individuals leaving the relationship. But when children are involved, an already-complex situation can become increasingly so. In the middle of the most emotionally difficult time of your life, you need to consider the emotions of your children.
Situations vary, particularly when it comes to child custody rights. But regardless of who is the primary caregiver, there are certain steps you can take to minimize the negative impact on your children.
- Understand your child’s needs.
Children need to feel important to their parents and like they matter and that their opinions and wishes are important. When parents go through a divorce, children may at first feel that their wishes are being ignored. And thus feel their importance diminished. During this time, focus on showing your child that their opinions matter. One way to do this is through engaging in conversation and answering their questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. Other tips to helping your child feel special is through hugs, more frequent interactions, and eye contact.
- Stick to a routine.
Divorce brings with it a disruption of your child’s regular routine. Routines give children a sense of control and security. So, one of the main reasons divorce is destabilizing to children is because of this break in routines. Perhaps your ex-partner was the one to read the bedtime story and, due to the divorce, this routine is broken. There are some areas in your life and schedule that will no longer be the same. Instead of brushing over them, address them directly with your child. It might take a little time to settle into a new routine, but have patience. And, as much as possible, limit other upsets to your daily schedule.
- Avoid raised voices or visible signs of conflict.
No one wants to be the third person present while two people are arguing or having it out. So don’t inflict this situation on your child. Avoid talking with your ex face-to-face if you do not trust yourself or your ex to speak calmly to each other.
If there are issues that you must work out, work your issues out over email, or at a time and place where there is no danger of your child overhearing. Do not berate yourself for not being able to talk with your ex without getting emotional. Don’t berate your ex for that either. Healing on all sides will take time. Use a mediator or a third-party you both trust if you are unable to reach a resolution on your own.
- Ask for help.
When parents split, chances are high that one parent will be pulling double duty in caring for the children. Dividing duties evenly when parents are no longer living under the same roof is an almost-impossible challenge. But that is not to say you should try to handle it all on your own.
Knowing when and how to ask for help, and being brave enough to do so is a vital way to ensure your own peace of mind. Lightening your load will allow you to spend sufficient time with your child, which is what they need during this time.
To that end, you might need to say no when it comes to others asking you to take on responsibilities at work or at school. You might need to cut back on obligations if doing so allows you more time with your kids and time to heal and breathe. Other ways you could get help include getting counseling for yourself or your children. Allowing close friends and family to cook meals or run errands for you. As well as letting them support you emotionally as well as physically.
- Let them feel.
Parents are fixer uppers. If our children hurt, we want to heal them. If our children cry, we want to change their tears to smiles. But in a parent’s haste to make things better, we may be guilty of bulldozing over their feelings. This can cause hurts to fester and grow instead of acknowledging the hurt and allowing it to heal.
It’s okay for your child to mourn the loss of the parenting structure that he has had up until now. Feelings of sadness are normal and to be expected. If you are always trying to redirect their focus when they feel sad, they may feel that you do not wish to hear what they have to say. They could further respond by closing up on the matter.
Allow your children to express their feelings. Tell them it’s okay to feel sad or angry. Listen. And simply affirm. You will be surprised at how effective active listening is in helping children get over difficult situations.