Don't make them feel like the divorce was their fault.
When is it okay to put your kids in the middle of your divorce? Never , yet it happens every single day throughout this country. National reports declare that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce and that two-thirds of these families include children.
In my many years of providing parent coaching in high conflict divorce situations, I have come to learn three very important lessons.
First, there is not one child in this universe that wants to be in the middle of their parents’ divorce. Second, children do not want to choose one parent over the other and third, children do not want to listen to one parent badmouth the other.
What children do want is for their parents to act as adults and work through their differences together and leave them out of it. This is often easier said than done for many divorced parents because one person may not able to compromise or is not able to stop holding their spouse accountable for the demise of the marriage.
Look — I get it. Your ex spouse has put you through hell and you are angry. You are hurt and sad — after all, you dreamed of making a life with this person.
While you are moving through your emotional pain, you also need to remember that your children did nothing to cause your divorce and therefore should be shielded from your “animosity” towards one another. Keeping your children out of your divorce needs to begin very early in the process. If you do not set a specific plan early on for your family you most likely will find yourself in a long drawn out high conflict custody battle that benefits no one.
Your children do not have to be the victims of your divorce. This can be accomplished rather easily if you follow the following 10 suggestions.
1. Don’t talk about the divorce in front of your kids or argue.
Adult issues need to be talked about privately. Once your children hear a word about it, they usually become anxious and scared. Your decision to divorce needs to be kept private until you tell your children.
Make time at night when the kids are asleep to have these discussions. If things get heated, talk outside or table the discussion until they are out of the house.
2. Design a plan before telling the children.
This is a step many parents skip in the divorce process. It’s unfortunate because it’s a vital step to helping your kids feel as secure as possible during the divorce process.
Once you both decide that you are going to file for divorce, sit down with each other and design an “action plan” about how you are going to tell the children together. Pick a time, place and even have a script in your mind about what you are going to say.
Remember to keep the child’s life as much the same as possible as you can in the beginning of the transition.
3. Tell the children together.
It is critical that you both sit down with your children together and tell them that you are going to get divorced.
This does not mean you tell them all the reasons why. It means you say that, “We have decided that it is best that we separate. We both love you very much and that will never change but we believe that this is best for our family.”
4. It’s not their fault.
It is critical that you say to your children, “The divorce is not your fault,” because many children will think it is. That is a normal reaction from any child when their parents split up. They may be thinking, “If I only behaved better or listened more, they would not be getting divorced.”
You and I both know that is not why anyone gets divorced. Tell them that you grew apart but do not imply your children had a role in your marriage breaking up because they don’t.
5. Answer their questions.
Your children will have lots of questions after they hear your news and throughout the divorce. Please be prepared to answer them as honestly as possible. This can be hard and uncomfortable, but it is necessary to decrease the child’s anger, fear and sadness.
If you don’t know all of the answers at the time of the questions, then simply say, “We are trying to work out all of the details and when we know you will be the first to know.” Adjusting to a divorce is an ongoing process for you and your children.
6. Do not ask your kids where they want to live.
This is placing way too much pressure on your children and brings up loyalty issues that are not their concern. In fact, this very question puts them directly in the middle of your divorce.
Never ask your kids to take sides. Decide living arrangements before you tell your children about the divorce. Kids do not decide where they live, parents do.
7. Don’t prevent your child from seeing the other parent.
If you have unresolved anger towards your ex spouse then get help to cope with it. No matter how angry you are, please do not keep your children from your ex. Remember even in the worst of times, your children are half you and half your spouse.
8. Don’t badmouth.
Take the high road. This is easier said than done especially when your ex spouse may make decisions that are not in the best interest of your child.
Step back, collect your thoughts and resist the temptation to blurt out to your child, “Dad/mom is a Deadbeat.” Remember to address adult issues with the adult, not your child.
9. Don’t discuss legal issues.
Legal issues belong in court and should not be discussed with your children. Remember you are not divorcing your kids. In addition, your kids are not your confidants. If you want to discuss your legal case, talk to your lawyer, therapist or your friend.
10. Do act civilly.
The one thing kids of divorced families tell me they want the most is for their parents to just get along. To divorced children, this often means acting civil to one another when you are both in their presence.
Please, make a decision from the beginning to always put your differences aside when in the presence of your children. It models to your children that even when people cannot be together they can still respect each other.
Please remember that as parents, we only get one chance to parent our children when they are young. You cannot go back and reverse the formative years of life.
Moving through the divorce process is an extremely personal and emotionally challenging process. As hard as it might be, make it your goal to try and establish a positive working experience with your ex spouse. Learn to put your anger aside for your children’s sake. You and your child’s happiness and success are worth this sacrifice!