Divorce can be heartbreaking, and the effects of divorce on a child can be disastrous. Healing your heart after divorce can be a long, all-encompassing journey. The thought of healing a child after divorce can take your breath away.
Children are, after all, the innocent, powerless victims — the collateral damage with no say in the implosion of their family.
Children are, by their nature, resilient. But how they react and adapt in the case of a divorce depends on a number of factors, including age, personality and circumstances.
And success in healing a child after divorce depends largely on you how you react, adapt and communicate.
Parents, even without intending, can be so engrossed in their own emotions that they forget about the emotional impact on their children. If the separation and divorce are especially hostile, they may not be able to see beyond their own anger and blame.
A common mistake parents make is failing to acknowledge and help children talk through the impact of the divorce.
Sometimes guilt gets in the way. Sometimes parents don’t have the awareness essential to be present to their children in a necessary way. And sometimes they don’t have the necessary emotional or communication skills.
No matter what the reason, your ability to rise above the negativity of your own emotions will determine how well your children adapt.
Ironically, if you’re going to succeed at healing a child’s heart after divorce, you and your ex will have to be on your best behavior. You’ll have to learn to do what you didn’t do well in your marriage: communicate effectively.
Healing a child’s heart after divorce calls upon parents to be the best of themselves: selfless, compassionate, dependable, uncompromisingly communicative. They will have to exercise healthy boundaries that protect the highest good of the child(ren), even as they work to heal themselves.
What children learn from the experience of living out their youth after divorce can shape the rest of their lives. And it can have a profound effect on the formation and stability of their future relationships.
How can you focus on healing a child’s heart after divorce when your own heart isn’t healed?
Here are 10 important tips, with considerations for different age groups.
1. Keep the ugly stuff away from the children.
Never ever fight in front of them, and don’t discuss legal matters in front of them.
If you need to vent your negativity or have a “blame session,” do so with your divorce coach, therapist or a trusted friend. But never speak derogatorily about your ex around your children. In their developing minds, doing so is the equivalent of disapproving of them.
Your children are not only hurt and confused, but they are also extremely vulnerable and impressionable. The last thing they should ever believe is that they are somehow to blame or will lose their parents’ love.
2. Remind them it’s not their fault, and that you will always love them.
Divorce is one of the most confusing experiences children can go through. “How can I trust that Mommy and Daddy will always love me if they suddenly stopped loving each other?”
Explain to them that sometimes parents can’t live together in a happy, healthy way, but they never stop loving their children. This is a message you will have to repeat over and over, both in your words and your behavior.
3. Be predictable.
Surprises are for parties, not divorces.
When something is going to affect your children’s lives or routines, they have a right to know in advance. Children shouldn’t come to expect being shell-shocked by their parents’ choices and behavior.
4. Keep their routines as normal as possible.
A big part of healing a child’s heart after divorce is not doing things that hurt it more.
The one great consistency an intact family has already been taken away. The only thing that will keep a child grounded and able to adapt is having as much normalcy as possible.
School, friends, activities, rituals from the big things to the little things, these routines can be a salve to a child’s heart.
5. Acknowledge and validate your child(ren)’s feelings.
This is one of the most important commitments that divorced parents need to make to their children.
If you have difficulty discussing your own feelings in a healthy way, you may benefit from guidance in talking with your children. A therapist or divorce coach can teach you how to elicit the expression of feelings from your children.