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One of the first things that crosses the mind of every loving parent when the issue of divorce is presented is, "what am I going to tell my kids?" Parents want to know how they can prepare children for divorce and make the process as painless as possible for the children. Many courts require parents who are divorcing to attend a parenting class to help them learn skills for post-decree co-parenting and how to deal with child custody and visitation constructively. While these parenting classes are helpful, they are geared more towards what to do after a divorce. Parents looking for help or advice on what to say before the divorce happens will find the most assistance in this article. There are some helpful tips for supporting your children during the divorce process that you can utilize now. Read on for the top 12 tips on preparing your children for divorce.
Top 12 Tips on Preparing Your Children for Divorce
These tips are just meant to be general guidelines. You know your children and family dynamic best, and the approach will differ from family group to family group.
1- Make sure the divorce is really happening before you say anything to the children. Do not discuss the possibility of divorce with your children. Please wait until you have filed for divorce and the process is in motion before you tell them. The reason for this is there is always a possibility that you and your spouse may reconcile, and there is no point in putting your children through anything they don't have to go through. You and your soon-to-be ex may even want to wait until the divorce has moved far along enough that one spouse is ready to move out before saying anything. Of course, sometimes the split is contentious, and one spouse leaves the marital home before anything is filed. In that case, you will have to use your best judgment to decide what to say to the children.
2- Make sure you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are on the same page regarding how and when to tell the kids. No matter what is going on between the two of you, the well-being of the children must come first. Try to get ahead of any problems, explaining why a parent is moving away by choosing a time and quiet place to sit down with your kids and letting them know there will be a change in family living arrangements.
3- Make sure they understand it is not their fault. Unfortunately, sometimes children think they did something to cause their parents' divorce, which is never true. Make sure that the children understand that this is something just between you and their other parents, and it is not their fault. Help them to understand that they played no part in the decision-making process when their parents decided to get a divorce.
4- Expect delayed reactions. Everyone processes events at different rates. A child could either be in shock from the information or not understand what is happening at first, which can hit them hard. Understand that a delayed reaction is normal and be there for your child or children. Remember that it is important to express to them how much you love them and that you are still their parents.
5- The younger they are, the less likely they will understand what is happening. Sometimes this can make things easier, but it can also create problems if you have to explain why one parent who is usually there is not there anymore. It's ok to ask for help if you need assistance in finding a way to explain the new situation to a very young child adequately.
6- Consider going to therapy to assist with the process and the transition to a new structure. A good therapist can help create coping strategies when dealing with significant changes, and divorce is one of the biggest changes a child will have to go through. You can meet with the therapist as a family or have individual sessions if necessary.
7- Be consistent. The biggest thing children can benefit from during a divorce is consistency, something they can count on in the middle of significant changes. Staying in the same house, school, and playgroups benefit the children's well-being. Continuing routines and activities they are accustomed to will also benefit the children, giving them a feeling of safety that they can count on.
8- Make sure they understand they don't have to "pick a parent." So often, in divorce, especially if the parents have been fighting and the rest of the family knows about it, the children feel like they have to pick a parent. The feeling that they have to pick a side often happens to children in a divorce, and many negative feelings can spring out of that compulsion. When you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse sit down to tell the children that you are divorcing, one of the most important things you can tell them is that they do not have to pick sides, that no matter what, they will always have two parents show love them very much. Making it clear that the children do not need to pick sides can eliminate a lot of unhappiness during the divorce process and for years to come.
9- If the children are old enough, explain the next steps. This goes back to creating a feeling of safety for the children in the middle of big changes. If the children know what will happen, they will be more prepared and ideally calmer when it does. For example, if one parent is going to be moving to a new house, you can explain when the children can expect that to take place and take them on a drive to the new house, so it's not such a shock when it happens.
10- Agree with your soon-to-be ex-spouse not to speak negatively about the other parents to the children. This is such a crucial step to take, and many couples miss this opportunity. No matter what happens between you and your ex-spouse, the children are not to blame for it and should not have opinions about how one parent did in the marriage as opposed to the other. Never say negative things about your ex in front of their children with you. The children should be allowed to have a happy and loving relationship with both parents, and negative talk is uncalled for.
11- Wait to date. Often, adults in an unhappy marriage tend to leap at the opportunity to start seeing someone new and to feel attractive again. Wait. Do not start openly dating while your divorce is still going on and there are children to care for. With the parents splitting up and their entire lives changing, introducing a new person to the mix will cause even more turmoil in a child's mind. Either wait until things have settled in the family to bring a new person around or date quietly without making it evident to your children.
12- Make sure your children understand that there is still a family. Sometimes kids think that divorce applies to them too, that one of their parents is going away. Make sure your children understand that you are still a family and a part of each other's lives. Make it clear that they are not being left or forgotten as things change around them.
Divorce is hard on everyone in the family, even when it is amicable. If you are considering divorce in Illinois, you should at least consult with an experienced family law attorney who can make the process as easy for you and your children as possible. The best approach is always to be well informed and to have clear goals in mind that will benefit the children of the marriage. Preparing to tell the children beforehand, ideally with the willing cooperation of your current spouse, can make the transition much easier for everyone. If you have questions or concerns about your Illinois divorce, please feel free to give O'Flaherty Law a call, and we would be happy to help you.