Going through a divorce is really one of the most stressful things a family can go through. So it’s important to be prepared and ready to have that first conversation about it. One of the best places to start is actually with some myth-busting. So yes divorces are stressful but they don’t have to be traumatic or something that really, really changes your child. There are a lot of good things you can do to help make this happen. The biggest one Bar None is to actually decrease the kind of conflict between you and the separating spouse.
So anytime you’re going to talk to the kids it’s important that you two have had a conversation ahead of time. I recognize divorce is really different how conflicted they are but if you’re looking to make a commitment to your kids mental health and emotional health across the board the best one is to lower conflict. Sometimes you actually need a mediator. There are wonderful organizations like “Kids in the Middle” and other private therapists that can really help with the process. Now what can you practically do? The first thing is if there are going to be two houses, make them as similar as possible in terms of rules, consequences, and expectations. Sitting down for a family meeting about how to do this is really important. The other thing that may be kind of a surprise is actually how their stuff is gonna get back and forth between places.
There are a lot of comforting things for smaller kids that really need to be transported. Blankets, stuffed animals and then even for older kids there can be aspects of technology and things that we don’t duplicate but need to be a part of the transitions. It also really helps for them to see you two communicating. So if there are big family decisions, you can make sure they know that you talked about it ahead of time and that you’re presenting a united front. One of the really hard ones I hear is that you are going through emotions too so it’s important that you have places where you talk about your feelings without any editing so that when you get to your kids you can actually give positive messages. Now there are always reasons for the divorce on both sides and it’s important that you are honest but age-appropriate.
So for instance saying something like we grew apart or we were no longer in love, no longer able to parent together can be a much more neutral way of discussing it. Then save more conflicted versions including betrayals and other things for friends and family. It really is important that they have a chance to get to know both parents individually and not feel like things are colored. I’ve seen a lot of times when actually negative feedback went back on the parent who did it and not the spouse that they were frustrated with. Your kids are going to grow up and figure out lots of different complex things as they do. And it’s important that they feel they can talk to you, if you’re always one side of the argument or saying negative things it’s very likely you’ll shut your kids down for the complex things they want to discuss with you. How they feel about new people and the family, how they’re doing with the transitions.
Another common pattern is that they can take care of each other as siblings. So if they have siblings going back and forth between the houses it matters that you still get solo time with each of them so they have a chance to process it. I feel really strongly that therapy can be a huge support even in non conflicted divorces. It can be really helpful to have a conversation with kids about the two different kinds of love in your life. One thing that helps is to talk about romantic love, is something that happens between two people who get married but it can change over time and that this should be contrasted with the kind of love you have for your kids. Which is something that doesn’t change and that they can be reassured that you will stay a part of their lives and love them throughout it.