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How Can I Tell My Children About This Divorce?

Remember the children?  Remember the children.  A good question and an even better directive. A divorce may be painful for you, but it can and very often does affect your children on an even greater level. Divorce can cause children to lose their sense of stability and feel as though neither parent loves them. They don't understand what is happening in their lives or why. They worry about themselves, the future and their parents. Some children become withdrawn and some become "caretakers" of their parents. Some even need therapeutic counselling to help through this time of their lives. 

 To keep these difficult feelings from developing further and to help reduce the negative impact of divorce on the kids, take an active interest in your children's well-being. Begin by being honest with your children about the divorce (in an age appropriate manner).  Your children will obviously know (likely much sooner than you may think) that something is happening in the relationship between their parents, and the younger they are the less likely they are able to understand the process, let alone the reasons for it. So the best advice in that regard is to sit down with your children (together as a couple if at all possible) and have a tender and loving conversation about what is happening; avoiding that conversation will only make things worse in the long run. It may be wise to consult with a counselor or a therapist on how best to go about breaking this news to your children, so don't be afraid to engage those services if you think they will help. Be careful about being too "honest" with your children, however, when explaining to them what is going on. This is very personal business between you and your spouse; your kids don't need to know the details of how and why you got to this place in your relationship. As a practical matter, all they really need to know is that both of their parents love them, that they had absolutely nothing to do with this dynamic happening and that they will be well-loved and well-cared for throughout the process and that "everything will be ok" in the future. Yes, that may sound a little naïve or Pollyannaish, but it is in fact the reality of the situation.

You can also reduce the amount of harm that a divorce causes your children by focusing on their needs.  Make sure your children know that you still love and support them, even amidst the divorce.  You can show support by helping them with everyday tasks like meals and homework, and by taking an interest in their extra-curricular activities.  In addition, be sure to address the changes that will take place in their lives as a result of the divorce.

 Talk to your children about where they will live, what school they will attend, and other aspects of their life that may change.  Be sure to avoid bombarding them with too much information at once, however.  Too much information can make children feel more insecure and may keep them from adjusting to post-divorce life.  Do not under any circumstances ask your child "who do you want to live with?" By so doing you are asking a child to choose between their parents, and you might as well frame the question by asking a child which parent they love more. Such questions are, in this author's opinion, tantamount to child abuse and are to be avoided at all times.

Finally, in speaking with children about divorce it is important to avoid blaming your spouse. You may hate your spouse and wish him or her only the worst, but these thoughts are harmful to your children. In their eyes, you and your ex should be united in making a peaceful, smooth divorce.  Unity and a lack of openly expressed anger during the divorce process will make it much easier for children to accept the transition.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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