the family. Telling the children marks an ending of the “old” family and the beginning of “new” family relationships.
Here are some suggestions:
Don’t jump the gun - The “divorce announcement” is a bomb that should not be set off until the divorce decision is certain. Before the decision is finalized, you can say, “Your dad and I are having problems which we are working on.” If the children ask if you are getting a divorce, a truthful reply would be “I don’t know.” Or if the question is “why,” a general answer is, “We are having a hard time dealing with each other.” This keeps an appropriate boundary around the marital problem and keeps your children from getting in the middle of things.
Tell the children together - This will be the final activity of the family you and your children have known. It makes sense to gather together as you would for any solemn occasion. Consider keeping this an “announcement,” not a time for explanations or for blame. You can give “facts” about what will happen from this point on: “I will be moving next Saturday.” Some reassurance may be helpful: “We both love you” and “We will work together as best we can to help you through this.” Consider making “we-statements” or “factual statements,” not “I-statements,” which can be self-serving, or “he/she statements,” which can be blaming.
Say it briefly - Let your children feel their feelings. Go with whatever response they offer, even if it is a minimal or puzzling reaction. This marks the beginning of their “grieving” and we all grieve in different ways and in different timeframes. One of the challenges of divorce is dealing with the fact that the emotional processing of various family members can get out of sync. When you yourself are dealing with strong feelings, it is may be difficult to connect with a family member who is grieving differently.
Remember to adjourn the family meeting - Don’t let it go on and on hoping to make everything OK. Tolerate ending without emotional resolution — resolution will take a much longer time. Ending the family meeting mirrors the larger ending the family is experiencing, an ending that leaves much to be resolved.
Later in the day, each parent can “check in” with each child - You could consider this to be the beginning of the new parent-child relationship, your post- divorce relationship with your child. This may feel awkward at first. The established routines of family life may no longer quite “fit.” You may realize that you and your child will need to find your own way of talking to each other in a meaningful way. This will probably involve a new mix of listening and appreciating, being patient and assertive, giving space and reconnecting.
Focus on the one-to-one relationship with your child - The foundation of your post-divorce relationship with your child is going to be a one-to-one relationship. Instead of “your mother and me” or “you and your mother” or “you and your brother,” the primary relationship will be “you and me.”
You could begin to put this into practice by switching from the “we” statements of the family meeting to “I” and “you” statements as you check in with your child. Gradually, a new “we” will emerge from this “I” and “you.” You can begin to show that “one-to-one” means that:
We will take the initiative to keep the relationship going, as demonstrated by this “checking in” with one another;
We won’t use someone else to resolve our differences or facilitate our communication; and
We can be emotionally upset with each other and see it through successfully.
While this new one-to-one parent-child relationship may need a lot of time to find its way, certain things can be established from the beginning by your example:
We will not draw other people into disagreements that occur between us.
We will still be parent and child, but with greater emotional intensity grounded in our new one-to-one relationship.
We will respect each other’s evolving situation in life.
We will avoid “loyalty” battles.
We will give each other a lot of latitude to work things out.
We will appreciate other relationships in each other’s lives.
We will take greater responsibility to share our lives with one another.
We will explore new ways of enjoying time and activities together, fostering new meaningful connections with one another.
Following up - Just as you have followed up on the family meeting by checking in with your child, you can to continue to check-in throughout the divorce process and the post-divorce adjustment period. “How are you doing?” Be consistently interested, but not insistently so. Most kids, especially adolescents, deal with divorce issues with their peers. Respect this approach and give it room to happen.
Longer-term follow up - Be prepared for divorce to be a longer-term, recurring concern in your child’s life. Children will explore unresolved issues by asking questions, and may return to these issues as they grow up. A seven-year-old will have certain questions; when he or she is 15, there could be new questions; and when your child is a young adult, there may be still other questions. You can accept this ongoing questioning as a part of your child’s learning about life. Listen carefully, explore the concerns that have given rise to their questions, and be informative, fair and sparing in your answers. Your answer is less important than their freedom to ask questions and come to their own answers. “I don’t know” can offer room for further exploration.
A less obvious way that your children will explore their concerns is through their own relationships. They may replay aspects of your marital relationship with their other parent or, ultimately, with their own romantic partner in an effort to “master” unresolved feelings over the divorce. In these efforts, they will attempt to avoid or rework the pitfalls that they perceived as critical to the breakdown of your own marriage. Your perspective may be of use to them as they try to work things out for themselves.
Finally, you should be aware that children will try to resolve the divorce “inside themselves.” They will identify with both parents and attempt to combine these identifications into their own evolving personality, there by “reconnecting” what was seemingly separated through the divorce. You will want to respect and support this process, particularly if you are able to recognize that you yourself have done something similar since the divorce, balanced your own personality by reclaiming and integrating some of the traits and roles that your spouse had enacted in the marriage. Article by Robert Stone November 4, 2006
Kids and Divorce: Ten Tough Issues by Robert Stone November 4, 2006 Children have an especially difficult time with divorce. Many times, parents neglect to consider the ramifications of the effects of the divorce on their children. Understanding how children will view the divorce and the resulting parental relationship is an important component to helping minimize the emotional turmoil of divorce for children.
Children do not get divorced from their divorced parents - Respect this truth, for it manifests itself in many different ways and is a guiding principle for dealing with children. For a child, father is always father, and mother is always mother. There are no replacements. Even if a parent is “out of the picture,” in the children’s mind that parent is always part of the picture, both now and in the future. This needs to be accepted and addressed.
Children will identify with their same-sex parent - These identifications are the building blocks of children’s personalities. Daughters will identify with their mothers, and sons will identify with their fathers — regardless of whether the parents are divorced. If children get the message “don’t be like your father” or “being like your mother will result in rejection,” then their development can stall — usually as they begin stepping into the adult roles modeled for them by their same-sex parent: spouse, parent, worker. Even if this parent’s example has been “bad,” children will identify, act similarly, and then, perhaps, try to remedy the “bad” that derailed their parent and led to their family’s breakup through their own relationships.
Daughters will tend to secretly identify with “the other woman” and sons with the “other man” - Daughters want to be the “apple of Dad’s eye.” If Dad is more desirous of another woman or more interested in something other than the family (like being at the bar), the daughter will, at some point, want to explore this “other world.” The daughter will tend to keep this a secret from mom for fear of being “disloyal” to her. The case is similar for sons. It is helpful to bring this “secret” to light and to talk about it non-judgmentally.
Beware of children “filling in the gaps” - Divorce can create “gaps” in the family structure and in the lives of both parents. Children will be drawn toward filling these gaps. Some will resist and pull away, often to their parents’ dismay. Some will get stuck in the “gap.” For instance, children will try to solve their parent’s loneliness. Sons may try to discipline their younger siblings — like a father. Daughters may become their father’s companion. When gap-plugging takes precedence over the child’s own personal development, then the plug needs to be pulled.
Conflict can be especially intense if a child acts like a junior version of the divorced spouse - This can be interpreted as “disloyal,” “a stab in the back,” and the marital conflict can get replayed with the children as stand-ins. However, rather than a deliberate affront, the child is more likely shoring up his personal identity through identification or trying to keep the old family structure going through gap-plugging. If you are sympathetic and accepting of these motives, then you can probably work with your child in a positive way.
Don’t lock into triangles and “go-between” set-ups - A “triangle” occurs when a third person is drawn into a one-to-one relationship: you and me against him. “Go-betweens” are third persons who are “in the middle” between two persons who should be dealing directly with each other. Children can “go-between” their divorced parents, trying to bridge the gap. Parents can put children “in the middle,” pumping for information or battling for “loyalty.” One parent can try to be the go-between for their ex-spouse and their child. Remember that strong one-to-one relationships are the best basis for post-divorce family functioning.
Don’t confuse your concerns with your children’s concerns - Whenever you “feel for your children,” double-check about whether you are “projecting” your own feelings and concerns onto them. If you are concerned that your child is feeling abandoned, hurt or scared, try saying: “I am feeling abandoned, hurt, scared.” Deal with your feelings first. Only then will you be able to help your children if, indeed, they have similar feelings.
Beware of trying to “make it up” to your children - Guilt is not a good basis for parenting. Parents need to return to “parenting” as soon as they are emotionally able — but it may not be the same parenting role as it had been prior to the divorce. For instance, the “soft parent” will need to do more “disciplining;” the “hard parent” will need to be “softer.” For some parents, this will be a welcome opportunity to explore their own parenting possibilities. For others, it may be difficult to incorporate new behaviors into their parenting. The soft parent may get even “softer,” “making it up to their children” (while drafting someone else to play the “hard parent” role), until they get so frustrated with their “spoiled darling” that they explode and become too hard.
When children become adolescents, they may want to be with their other parent - This can be very painful for the custodial parent, who may take it personally. In most cases, however, the child’s motive is to have a first-hand experience of their other parent, especially if there has been a separation. They may have been raised on the stories others have told them about this parent whom they have secretly idealized. The adolescent wants a “reality check.” Also, adolescents may need to know if their custodial parent can make it without them, freeing them up to pursue their own development.
Communicate values rather than insist on control - For various reasons, control over your children may become very difficult to achieve or reassert. It will help if you keep control of yourself. Be firm but patient. Keep asserting expectations: homework, tidiness, curfews, etc. But try thinking that there is something more important than control and that is the communication of your positive values. Even in the midst of conflict and defiance, and even if it doesn’t look as if you are getting anywhere, don’t give up. Your values will emerge in your children as their own values, especially as they become young adults. Keep your eye on the bigger picture and have faith.
Tips for Helping Children Handle Divorce by Walter Brown, Ph.D. June 22, 2007 Much of how children are affected depends on how their parents handle the divorce process. Parents who end their marriage in a mature and healthy way can reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children. Being sensitive to how each child is reacting to and handling this difficult experience is also very important. Here are a few ways parents can help their children handle divorce.
Make certain the children understand they did not cause the divorce.
Explain to the children the reasons for the divorce, using common sense as a guide.
Allow the children to express their feelings about the divorce.
Do not lie or withhold information from the children that will help them better understand the reasons for the divorce.
Be sensitive to how each child is handling the divorce.
Help the children feel secure by showing love and commitment to them.
See that each child’s behavior remains appropriate to his or her current stage of development.
Allow the children to adjust to the divorce at their own rates.
Help the children maintain their usual routines.
Set a good example for the children by handling the divorce in a mature and healthy way.
Determine custody based on a rational decision that meets the needs and best interests of the children.
Maintain regular contacts between the absent parent and the children.
Do not expect a child to fill the absent parent’s shoes.
Do not tamper with the children’s love or loyalty to the other parent.
Do not ask the children to take sides against the other parent.
Do not say bad things about the other parent.
Do not attempt to buy the children’s affections by playing “weekend Santa.”
Do not use the children as messengers or question them about the other parent.
Spend time alone with each child so that he or she will feel like a special individual.
Fix my kids I often hear the following request from parents: “fix my kids.” “They won’t listen to me, they’re disrespectful, won’t do chores,” etc. I am sure you can add to this list. For such parents, I have a reassuring, although frustrating, solution: Your children can be “fixed,” but I can’t do it. What I will do is teach you how to do it. Now, how badly do you want to fix your kids?
You Get To Make the Rules Times are changing fast, and so are we. But children’s basic needs haven’t changed over the years. Besides food, clothing, and shelter, children need to feel loved, need to feel safe and secure, and need to know that their parents are interested. Children will act in a way to make sure they get their needs met.
Children need rules, boundaries, expectations and security. This is how your children will have their needs met. I know that we are all very busy. But you don’t have to give up your career or your sleep to be an effective, loving parent.
Your child needs rules. Think about how unsafe one might feel if there were no rules to follow. The good news is that you get to make the rules and your child gets to follow them. Your rules need to be clear and age appropriate, and most of all they need to be followed. Do not bend the rules; this gives the wrong message. You want your children to know that rules are to be followed and if they are not, there will be consequences. Your child needs to know about consequences and you also get to decide what they will be.
Children Will Test Those Rules: “But every time I try to stick to the rules, my child has a fit!” Yes, this is to be expected. Your child will always be testing the rules and always be testing you; he or she wants to make sure that you are in charge. As the parent, it is appropriate for you to make decisions about bedtime, dinnertime, playtime, etc. Your children need to know that you are the boss; this helps them to feel safe and secure. And yet, because children recognize that they do not have control over these decisions, they will often “push their parent’s buttons” to feel control over something — in this case, you.
Never respond emotionally to a child’s negative behaviors. This is what makes children think they have control. If a child can make you yell and scream, he or she has accomplished a lot and what you have on your hands is a power struggle. If you can control your responses and they can’t get a rise out of you, the behavior will usually fade away. But remember: You are the boss and you can prove this by maintaining your control.
We also need to discuss boundaries, meaning how much we are willing to tolerate. This is when clear-cut punishment and discipline come into play. Some people like to call it “structure” and it is a must for every household. Does your child have a curfew? Is your child allowed to swear in your home? How long can a child whine before he or she gets a timeout? Again, your child needs to know about these boundaries to feel safe and secure.