We've all heard the statistics that half of all marriages end in divorce, but when you make the decision to end your marriage, you need to be prepared to deal with many challenges. If children are part of the equation, you need to keep in mind that divorce can have a profound effect on them unless you take some steps to ease the transition.
When the decision to divorce is made, parents need to address the well-being of their children during and after the divorce. Every child needs the reassurance from their parents that they didn't create the problems in the marriage. Parents also need to communicate age-appropriate messages so that the children can develop the ability to have future successful relationships in their own lives. There are a few things parents should keep in mind through the divorce process.
First, a common mistake made by divorcing couples is that they think their children don't understand what is going on with the relationship, when in fact, they do understand more than we think. Even if you and your former spouse do not fight in front of the children, your non-verbal messages are read by them very clearly. Both parents need to make a conscious effort of being positive about the other parent at all times.
Secondly, children will blame themselves for the divorce. Depending on the ages of your children, you may need to tailor the message about divorce in a way that they understand. For example:
- A young child can feel that they caused the separation because everything at this age revolves around them. Parents need to work hard to change this perception otherwise the child will internalize these feelings and could act out.
- Elementary aged children may feel that divorce only happens in their family. Depending on your circumstances, it may be appropriate to work with a school counselor or family therapist so that they can work through these feelings.
- Adolescent aged children could worry about how this will affect their lives and what their friends will think.
Finally, parents need to be careful in assuming that their children will be just fine through a divorce. While this may be true, it is only the case when the parents make an effort to reduce conflict before, during and after the divorce. Children are resilient, but they still need to be protected.
Source: The Huffington Post, "The Kids' Will Be Just Fine And Other Divorce Myths," Claire N. Barnes, MA, Feb. 3, 2012