If you are concerned, as I was, that your separation is negatively impacting your kids, take heart. During separation or a divorce, from babies to adult children, despite changes that they did not want or ask for, can manage. Much of how they are impacted will depend on how both their parents handle the situation. The following ideas all contribute to having healthy and well-adjusted children.
It is important to note that these ideas are important to use no matter what age the children are, 3 months or 30 years. Adult children can have a very difficult time with many of the same things that damage young children. Pay attention and be thoughtful and considerate to your children at any age!
1. Protect their innocence.
- Know that divorce does not damage children. CONFLICT damages children.
If at all possible, keep conflict away from the children. They do not need to witness fighting or know about your problems. Trust that if there is a lot of conflict in a marriage, that a divorce may be a better outcome for the children in the long run.
- Make a plan to communicate the separation.
Plan the conversation to tell the children about the separation in advance, preferably together as a couple if at all possible. A united front is always the best strategy although it can be difficult. The way you present your break up to the children will go a long way to set the stage for the entire separation and future as a family.
- Tell the truth as simply as possible.
Do not give out more information then they need or want. Answer their questions and concerns honestly, and if you are not sure what their concerns are, simply ask them for more clarity. Kids are often thinking about completely different problems than their parents are. Different ages represent different concerns so prepare for what to expect.
- Allow your kids to love both of their parents.
Show restraint and respect your spouse. Each time one parent is disrespected or labeled ‘bad’ it can make children think they may be ‘bad’ too. If both parents are venting about each other it can become very negative for the kids caught in the middle.
- Do not use your kids as a confidant or therapist.
Take responsibility for your own issues and concerns. Children are already dealing with their own stresses with the changing family dynamic and do not need to be burdened with your problems or privy to all the sordid details. Adult children have enough to handle with day-to-day living; please try hard not to burden them with your issues.
- Do not use your children as messengers.
If you have something to tell your ex-partner, tell them yourself. The kids should never be put in the middle of your conversations.
- Do not use your kids as spies.
If you do not know, you probably do not need to know! Focus on what you are grateful for and forget the rest as you move on with your life.
- Remain the parent.
Your children should not look after you. You, as the parent, need to look after meeting your own needs. Sadly, some families reverse their roles during hard times and the kids become their parent’s caregivers. This is not healthy for anyone. Support is available if you are having trouble coping. Seek out a professional, a trusted friend or family member.
2. Keep positive.
- Provide security.
The children need to feel secure. Reassure them that everything will be okay in the long run. It will be different, but it will be okay.
- Continuity and consistency amid the change is important.
Introduce change when necessary, but keep continuity with the positive things in the past as well as between the two new homes when possible.
- Affirm that as their parents you both will continue to love them.
The family is changing and dividing but the love will continue and both parents will remain their parents. Young kids especially need to hear this.
- Set a healthy example.
Keep repeating the mantra “Everything will work out”, and “This too will pass”. Believe that it will! Trust that you will all be fine. The kids will follow your lead!
- Keep the change positive.
Try to accept the changes and keep them positive instead of putting up resistance and wasting a lot of energy on negativity. The best way to insure that the kids will be okay with the way things are is for the children to see you setting the example that you are managing.
- Acknowledge that you have feelings and so will the kids.
It’s okay to be human and acknowledge a wide range of emotions, those with both positive and negative sounding labels like ‘happy’, ‘sad’ and ‘angry’. Healthy handling of your emotions and reactions will set an example that it is okay to be human. Remember that all feelings are valid, even when they’re not very helpful. Just acknowledging that they are being felt is better than saying their feelings are ‘wrong’.
- Tell the kids that the separation is not their fault and not their problem to fix.
Children often blame themselves and try to fix things, so make sure they understand the problems are between you and your spouse. Own your problems. Be reassuring that your kids, no matter their age, are not responsible for solving any of their parent’s issues. If you see your kids trying to fix things for you, acknowledge their efforts, tell them you are handling it, and explain that your top wish is for them to be the children they are!
- Choose your words carefully.
Framing with the right language can be helpful. Keep your words positive and simple. Broken home can be a two-family home, a failed marriage is really just a marriage that has ended, joint custody is co-parenting, visitation is just time to be with one parent, the ex-wife/ex-husband is just your child’s mom/dad.
3. Slow down. Allow time for the children to grieve and adjust to the changes.
- The children, no matter their age, will need time to adjust to the changes taking place in their family. Allow them this time and be patient.
- Often a separation is brewing a few years in at least one partner before it is acted on. Often much of the emotional grief work is done before the separation is even mentioned out loud. Give the kids time to catch up emotionally and adjust to your new reality.
- A divorce usually takes longer than you think it will. Prepare as if it is a marathon, not a sprint. Allow your kids time to settle in, gain strength and stamina, before proceeding with more changes.
4. Be available to your children.
- Be present and treasure the moments you are with your children.
Young kids have a wonderful way to draw us out of our past issues and future concerns and into the present moment. Enjoy being present and know that just being there and available is important to your children.
- Cherish your children.
Children need to know they are listened to, cared for and important to you. Cherishing them is also a great life lesson so they will learn to cherish their loved ones!
- Spend quality time with your kids.
Just being physically there can be reassuring to children. They do not need ‘stuff’ like a Disney vacation as much as they simply need positive down time with you.
- Provide love, humour and affection daily.
Life will go on. Change is one of the few things that we can always count on, so start a daily habit of love and affection and do not forget to sprinkle some humour on top. Laughter is good for everybody! Finding humour in the situations you find yourself in during a separation is a true release. I remember many times laughing about the ironies and the ridiculous situations I went through. Try to keep your sense of humour!
If you are having trouble managing your separation and worried about how it will affect your children, please contact me.
I do offer a free strategy session.
The Divorce Coach in Dundas
Copyright © 2016 Pam Mirehouse
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