Kids and Divorce Over the Long Term
Divorce isn’t just hard for the two parties going through one; kids and divorce can lead to years of conflict and stress for everyone involved. There’s no guarantee how a child will react to a divorce. Some children will close themselves off, while others will act out. Although some kids may not seem affected by divorce, chances are…they are very affected.
In this post, I will give you ideas on how to better prepare yourself and your children for the emotional conflict that might be encountered during a divorce. If you follow some of these tips, judges may be more inclined to view you as a better parent. In addition, consider checking out our FAQ to some common child custody and legal decision making questions.
Now…with all that being said, as a disclaimer, I’m not a trained psychologist or counselor. If you feel you might have difficulty coping or you child might have adjustment issues, seek the help of a trained professional.
Here are a few tips for dealing with kids and divorce:
1. Remember–Your Child Isn’t a Messenger.
Though you might feel a need to communicate your frustrations with your former spouse, it’s doubtful your child will fully understand the implications of some of the things you might have them say. To send them to deliver messages to your former spouse is like sending them off to war without basic training. In other words, this can lead to high-conflict situations; your kids are going to encounter conflict, and they may not know how to handle it.
2. Listen, Breathe, and Answer.
You child is going to have questions about your divorce. Some of those questions might frustrate or even anger you. Your spouse may be using your kids to send messages or might be giving them incorrect information. Though you might feel frustrated, it’s imperative to validate your child’s quest for understanding. Just because you don’t know an answer or don’t feel comfortable about answering doesn’t mean your child doesn’t deserve a response. If you don’t want to answer, at least provide the reasons why you find it difficult to answer. Initially, it might not appease your child, but eventually they will respect your openness and candidness.
3. Overcompensate? Not the Best Idea.
We all compare ourselves to others. When it comes to kids and divorce, many people will start competing for the “better home,” “better life,” and “better everything.” This might facilitate early admiration from your child, but in the long run, it can be damaging. Your child could grow to feel entitled.
One of the greatest things I’ve ever learned was that it’s better to pay for experiences, rather than things. As a child, I was lucky enough to have a lot of toys and games. Despite this, I’d often become bored because I didn’t have a sense of value to associate with my new possession. I’d feel empty.
Friends of mine have expressed the same feelings about the gifts they received from their parents during a divorce. The gifts didn’t foster happiness, they only highlighted the distance the divorce had had on the relationship.
4. Learn to Apologize.
It can be hard to admit our mistakes. It can be even harder to do it when your relationship is based on a presumption that you know what’s right and wrong. Though this is one of the most difficult realizations we all have to make, admitting our mistakes to our children can be freeing. In doing this, be sure to reciprocate the reaction you give to your child when they make a mistake. That’s not to say you let them impose punishment (imagine sitting in time out), but explain the steps that can be taken to avoid the mistakes and how each of you can help towards that goal in the future.
5. Give Body Language Signals.
Your child might start getting uncomfortable or uneasy with certain situations. It can be helpful to set up a hand signal, a raised palm, a thumb to the chin, or a hand to a shoulder, that expresses your child’s desire to end the conversation. If your child doesn’t seem inclined to discuss their concern, be sure to address it with them later when they are ready. Maybe start by saying “It seemed like you were upset earlier when you gave me the hand signal. Do you want to talk about it?” This will foster communication between your kids and you about the divorce..
6. Find Common Goals.
I’m not saying you should take your kid to everything you would do with friends, but great bonding can come from finding mutually enjoyed activities. Find ways you can both benefit emotionally, mentally, or physically from your activities. Be aware that your child might not want to play rugby with you and your semi-pro team.
Like any friendship, it’s important to find time and opportunity where your mutual interests can bring you together. Worst case scenario…go to the library and read then talk about what you’ve learned. Bonding through your quest for knowledge will remove some of the barriers between you and your child’s different interests.
Above all the tips I can provide, the most important thing to remember is that you must build trust through honesty with your children.
I wish you and your children the best of luck during your divorce.