“I need to maintain a close bond with both of you”
“I want you both to remain involved in my life”
“Please try to find a way to get along”
“Don’t make me feel like I need to take sides and love one of you more than the other”
“Find something positive to say about my other parent. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”
Going through a divorce, for children and adults alike, is very similar to the grieving process. There are things you can do to help your children grieve and work through the vast range of emotions that they are experiencing.
Help your children understand their emotions
Children express their feelings in many different ways. It’s okay to help your children acknowledge and identify what these emotions are. “You seem really angry right now”; “It’s okay to feel sad”. Your children need to know that they can share their true feelings without angering or upsetting you. It’s important that your children are encouraged to express themselves and given an outlet to do so. Listening, talking, art, journaling and play can help. This process helps your children build a sense of trust and security. Your children need the undivided attention of both parents to work through such a difficult and complex transition in their lives.
Clarify that the divorce is not their fault Your children need repeated reassurance that the separation is not their fault. It’s common for children to recall situations when they were in trouble and associate this with the divorce. They need to know that this is between mommy and daddy and has nothing to do with anything they’ve done or said. Your children need the consistent message from both parents that they are loved unconditionally and that will never change, no matter what.
Provide structure and routines: Children feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect. Providing stability by developing and following through with predictable routines helps your children adjust to change. This reassures your children that you are looking after their best interests and maintains a sense of continuity, stability and care.
Both parents to maintain a civil relationship: As difficult as this can be for you during this transition, your children need you both to find a way to effectively communicate and co-parent. You need to work together to ensure that your children aren’t witnessing any further conflict between the two of you. Work out a communication system that shields your children from the stress that this causes – email, scheduled phone calls after the children are in bed, communication book etc.
Take care of yourself: To take care of your children’s needs, you must also take care of your own. This is a grieving process for you as well. Seek out and make use of your support system – friends, family, support group or counsellor. If you aren’t taking care of your own emotional needs, you won’t be able to support your children’s. Children are very intuitive. If they sense your inability to cope, their insecurities and anxiety can escalate and effect their adjustment.
Susan Parsons is owner of Crossroads Family Solutions. As a family mediator and counsellor with 22+ years’ experience, she mediates balanced divorce agreements and provides counselling and co-parenting programs. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.crossroadsfamilysolutions.ca