How to Support Children through a Divorce
22 January 2019
By Head of Family Law, Tracey Moloney
Divorce can be a difficult time for everyone involved, as entire worlds are turned upside down. Parents who are getting divorced can be overcome by their own emotions in trying to deal with the divorce and this often means that they can find it difficult to know how to support their children through the process.
Divorce is challenging for all children, but the challenges faced can vary dramatically depending on the circumstances of the divorce and the age of the child, along with a host of other factors.
Divorce Can Affect Children Differently at Different Ages
Young children are likely to be very confused and may struggle to understand why their parents no longer want to live together. It's likely that they won't be able to grasp the emotional complexity of the situation, and this can be frustrating for them. They could also worry that the divorce is happening because of something that they did.
When your children are teenagers, divorce can present a different set of challenges. They are themselves going through their own changes, experiencing unbalanced hormones, trying to establish their own identity and formulating their own ideas about romantic relationships.
While lot of teenagers may appear mature and able to deal with adult issues, generally they still see things as very black and white. They can insist on knowing all the details of why the marriage is breaking down but be unable to then refrain from judgment or accept that what is happening is not always easy to explain and rationalise.
Supporting Children through Divorce
While you will never be able to make the divorce process completely painless for your children, there are steps that you can take to help and support them as they come to terms with your divorce:
1. Allow your children time to get used to the idea
By the time you decide to tell your children that the marriage has ended, you will have spoken to your spouse and potentially begun working through the emotions that people experience when deciding to divorce; anger, depression, hurt and grief. Allow your child to work through these emotions too.
It is important to recognise that their feelings matter and let them know that they are being listened to. Some children may want to sit with this new information for a while and not voice any opinions, others may feel the need to express their anger, frustration or disbelief as an immediate reaction. Either way let them deal with it in a way that feels comfortable for them.
2. Maintain a regular routine
While it will probably be difficult to keep going 'as normal,' a steady routine is important to children. If their routine is kept up then this offers them security and comfort, as it means their world is not being turned completely upside down.
3. Refrain from alienating the other parent
As difficult as it may be, depending upon the circumstances of the divorce, encourage your children to maintain a relationship with your spouse. At times children may feel the need to 'take sides' and offer comfort to one parent by alienating the other. The long term effect of parental alienation on children is not good. It is important that they maintain a strong relationship with both parents for their development and this will also have an impact on how they view relationships into adulthood.
4. They don't need to know all the 'ins' and 'outs'
Don't tell them all the details of who said what to whom and who did what. As mentioned above they see things very much in black and white and they will be looking to apportion blame.
This is when parents need to be firm and resist the temptation to speak to the children as a 'friend.' They are still children and knowing too much information will increase their anxiety, confusion and anger. Deep down children still need to feel that their parents are in control and that they are there to help steer them through this difficult period.
5. Try to present a united front
When one parent looks to undermine the other, this can result in the child feeling insecure and unsure of the way ahead. Parents who support each other in terms of parenting and present as a united front will help the child feel that their parents are in control of what is happening and reduce the child's anxiety and fear.
Reducing the Pain of Divorce
Children are ultimately stuck in the middle when a divorce takes place, and this will be difficult for them to deal with. Parents can lend their support and guidance by not creating a divide, reducing conflict and refraining from undermining the other parent. All of these small actions will go some way towards ensuring that your child gets through the divorce process as painlessly as possible.