Published: 05/29/2015 - Updated: 04/13/2017
Author: MSc. Miriam Reyes
Facing divorce is never easy, and even less so if children are involved. This long and difficult process almost always creates painful consequences for children on an emotional level, like poor school performance, low self-esteem, and rebellion. Children cannot understand that the love between their parents is over, they cannot distinguish how love between spouses is very different from the love that joins a parent to a child.
If you’re going through this right now, and your child(ren) has become rebellious, you need to be patient. Communication is fundamental.
Even though divorce is a delicate subject, there is no reason that it needs to be extremely harmful to a child, if you take special measures and precautions to protect him/her.
Do NOT avoid the topic with them
The worst thing you could do would be to avoid the topic with your child, or to secretly do the paperwork and then finally tell your child that his/her parents are getting divorced.
Divorce should be addressed explicitly at some point by both parents. Ideally, and in agreement with specialists, both the mother and father should promote this conversation with the child, explaining the reasons, making it totally clear that the child is in no way responsible for what happened.
Depending on age…
Not all children react the same way in every family. This all depends on the relationship that the members have, and the age of the family members. Age is absolutely fundamental.
Parents need to find the right way to reach their child, and make sure that a peaceful message is transmitted. When the moment arrive to talk to your child, do so without placing blame, getting upset, or starting an argument.
How to help them
In order to help your child understand what is going on, talk to them sincerely, that love between parents is not the same type of love for children. Often times adults experience changes in their love.
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Explain to them that in order for a couple to survive, they need to agree on important things and that’s why both have decided to live separately.
It is absolutely necessary that you emphasize that even though one of the parents may have to move, the connection between parent and child is never broken, and they will be connected for life.
If there is no other option…
If there is no longer any emotion that connects them as spouses, and they have tried therapy to solve their problems but had no success, it’s best not to take steps backwards just because you don’t want to hurt your children.
It is never healthy to tolerate someone else if the love simply isn’t there. When least expected, some sort of disagreement will explode, affecting children in the most serious way possible.
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If your children are no longer young, the situation could be even more delicate due to their age. They are more aware of what is happening, and they will ask a lot of questions, interrogating about things they just can’t understand.
Divorce can even affect them in the way they see and understand confidence, loyalty and love. They could become skeptical of whether or not these values exist.
You need to be very careful with adolescents. They could some day doubt their own ability to get married or maintain a romantic relationship.
They could experience loneliness, depression and guilt at this age, and they could even act out in risky behavior, like drinking and taking other drugs, or becoming promiscuous.
In both cases, whether the child is adolescent or younger, you need to be prepared for the following questions: “where will I live? with whom? Will I have to change houses, high school? Will I still see my friends?”
In whatever way possible, you need to answer all of their questions to calm them down.
You need to clarify that even though they may change houses, the father won’t live here anymore, he will always be there when the child needs him. Neither of the parents will neglect the child’s needs.
Specialists recommend that if the child or children are younger than 5 years of age, do not make big changes regarding living situations and schools.
Both parents need to talk about and agree upon which situation is the healthiest for the minor. Generally if they are very small, they should continue living alongside the mother. However, regardless of the situation, you should avoid fighting for your children, trying to win them over with gifts or money, and never turn them against the other parent.
Neither of the parents should use the child as a hostage to get something from the other parent (from the ex). Do not speak poorly of the other in front of the children, if one parent has not gotten over the other, do not become sad in front of the child.
Remember that this is a complex process. You need to understand that you are not the first, nor will you be the last to go through a divorce. You should find help groups. It is not good to face this alone. Talk to other people that have gone through the same situation, and find internal strength to face this in the best way possible, for the well-being of you and your family.
Revised by: Dra. Loredana Lunadei on 04/13/2017
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