When you and your spouse are planning to divorce, it’s vital that you think about how it will affect your child, and then help them deal with your divorce.
Divorce between two people who don’t have children, versus two people who do, is a different animal.
Children often look and sound like they’re okay. At first, they want to know about how it’ll affect their lives, if Santa Claus will come to Mommy’s house too, or will both parents be at their birthday party.
Yet how children ultimately fare depends on the maturity and sensitivity of the parents, specifically how much you’re working on the health of your relationship post-marriage. I’ve seen many parents divorce respectfully and with great concern for their kids. But others? It not only brings out the worst in them – but they’re so emotionally wrapped up in continuing the battle with their ex that the children are victimized over and over.
Some of these factors you can’t control. But some you can. And you must — if the choice you made to divorce doesn’t make their own lives much more chaotic.
The factors you can’t control…
Current wisdom may say that the younger the children, the better they’ll cope with the divorce. However, if all of sudden they see far less of the parent who’s been their primary caregiver — that can be pretty difficult. A very young child can still be sensitive to rage and harsh emotion.
2. Their personality, especially how sensitive to change they are.
Some children are more easy-going and adapt to change fluidly, while others crave consistency and thrive on routine. If you have a child who likes order, things happening in a way that’s predictable, it will take more time for them to settle into the new normal after divorce. This ideal is to gradually disentangle with your ex. If your relationship with your ex is healthy enough to have some celebrations together, like you did when you were married, then that consistency for the children can be helpful.
Some parents carry this choice a little far, however, and continue to live as if nothing has changed; this can be confusing and perhaps even instill false hope in their children. At some point, for the sake of clarity, the fact that two families exist where there was one has to be faced. It can be two families that get along very well. But it’s still two families.
3. Their closeness to individual parents.
If a child has spent a lot of time with their dad or mom, and then that’s taken away, it can be very hard on them. Joint custody is much more the norm in our society, as culturally, men have become more involved in day to day parenting. The move to joint custody can be devastatingly difficult for a child that has a special bond with one parent.
Especially early on, you need to be sensitive to this. What a judge orders are the guidelines if you and your ex can’t agree, if your child needs time to adjust, then be flexible.
But these are factors you can control…
So these are factors you can control. It takes you being aware, but if you work on it, it’s more than possible.
4. Sudden moves away from their norm.
You may try hard for this not to happen, but sometimes you can’t prevent it. Yet you can do your best to keep the rest of your children’s lives as constant as possible. It gives them more stability to have other aspects of their lives intact; being able to go to school and have their same friends and teachers makes life overall feel more normal.
Having as little change as possible in the rest of their lives as possible for a good amount of time is a wonderful thing for them to hold onto as they experience this major life transition.
5. Quickly moving ahead with another relationship.
Whether this is because of having an affair or simply because loneliness scares you, you can far too quickly introduce your children to another person. If that person has kids themselves, then it can be quite complex.
There are then lots of chaotic things your children can feel. Confusion. Resentment. Feeling unimportant. Looking happy because that’s what’s expected of them. This last one can be denied easily if you say, “The kids are great with the divorce. And Joe (or Josette) fits right in.”
Please don’t do that. It’s such a mistake.