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Divorce & Children

Here are some tips on divorcing with children

Divorce can look a variety of ways: mutual, ragged, painful, or congenial.  Divorcing with children brings further complexity.  Divorcing with children often asks the couple to be much more intentional with the process.

Stay in your adult self

Often this is the most challenging aspect for parents. Divorce often occurs after a long and challenging period (though not always). Divorce often inhibits your ability to be your best adult.

You are exhausted of conflict with your significant other. You are heartbroken. You are angry. You are hurt.

For most people, this draws out parts of themselves that are less resourced, less intentional, and more reactive. Even when you intend to be your best adult self, you might find yourself slipping into more childish and reactive ways of acting, such as making snide comments, having texting wars, telling your kid(s) that their mother/father is mean or selfish. 

While all of this reactivity is certainly understandable,it can bring stress to your children during an already difficult transition. As much as you are able, provide acceptance and steadiness for your children. It can be invaluable to bring your exhausted, heartbroken, angry, and hurt self to a child & family therapist so they can support you to be the steadiest parent possible.

Surround your children with adult love & care:

During the divorce, invite familiar and caring adults into your child’s world.   Accept that you have a tremendously full plate of your own and so does your child’s other parent.  Be honest with other adults about how your family needs some extra love right now.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Now is the time.

Invite adults to take your son or daughter on a weekly outing for doughnuts or tea.  Invite in coaches, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, your adult friends or the parents of your child’s friends.   They don’t have to do anything specific or special. They just need to show up and show that they care.  They don’t need to try to get your child to talk about their feelings.

If you feel your child needs help expressing their feelings, consider bringing a therapist on board. Expect your child to have feelings but don’t force them to have them with you.  Separation and divorce can be very stressful for children.  Children often describe feeling caught and confused.

Expect your child to struggle:

Anticipate that your child will have a rough year during the time of the divorce.  You see it on their face, you worry when they withdraw, and you wonder why they are angry.  When their grades drop or they are not interested in friends, these are typical reactions to divorce.  Get them the support they need to move through the transition.  If your child’s functioning generally seems unchanged, continue to monitor them closely.

Make sure the school knows what’s going on. Talk to your school counselor and your child’s teacher directly.  Ask them to relay any significant changes they see in your child.  Share with them how you see your child dealing with the transition.

Educate your child about what to expect:

Make sure your child knows what’s going on.  Too many times, children rely on their peers for information about divorce.  Because divorce can look many ways, it’s important you give your child accurate information about what they can expect regarding living arrangements, pets, moves, timelines, and holidays.  Get books from the library about divorce.  Give them as much information as possible about this family transition in general and how it will look for your family.

Do what you say you will do: when you separate, then do that.  When you divorce, then do that. Don’t try to salvage things for your child for the sake of appearances.  Have separate holidays.  Don’t try to look like you still love your spouse.  Let it be what it is.  If you accept your divorce, you child can begin to accept it as well.

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