Q. My wife and I are divorcing. She doesn’t want a divorce and is angry with me. I’m insisting on one. We have two children, ages 6 and 9, who we both love. I’m hoping that we can share custody of the children. I want to make this as easy on them as we can. What suggestions do you have for my wife and I to make this divorce less difficult for the kids?
A. The day or so before you both tell your children about the divorce, talk to their teachers so that they will be aware of the situation and can be prepared for changes in the children’s behavior. Your kids may also have questions that they will want answered from a trusted adult, such as their teachers. Ask the teacher not to mention the divorce unless the child brings it up first. One out of two marriages today will end in divorce, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Regardless of the reasons for divorce, parents need to talk about, and agree on, ways to help the children get through the experience without trauma, or with the least amount of trauma. Here are some suggestions on how you and your wife can help your children best deal with your divorce.
- Ask your wife to tell the children with you. Getting her cooperation may not be easy since she does not wish to separate. However, experts agree that telling the children together helps them to better handle the divorce. Experts also agree that you should not discuss each other’s faults with your kids. Setting it up for them to take sides (your or your wife’s side) is not good for their well-being. You don’t help them through the divorce by encouraging them to see one of their parents as “bad.”
- Let your kids know they are loved and can love both parents equally. Let them know that both of you will always be their parents.
- Tell your children that the divorce is not their fault. Children often believe that they did or didn’t do something, which led to the current situation. Sometimes parents hear children asking “What did I do?” They might promise to stay good if their parents will stay together.
- Give your children room to feel how they feel. Let them know that their feelings are normal and that you will work through things together. Having kids draw or journal may help identify what they are experiencing inside.
- Answer their questions. They may ask why you are divorcing. Have a truthful answer ready.
- Spend some time in activities with your children every day if you can. When allowed and possible, eat lunch with them at school. Time and attention tell your children that you love them.
- Get the children emotional support through counseling as well as through family and friends. There are numbers of books for kids of various ages on the topic of divorce. You can find some for any age. Books include “Dinosaurs Divorce” by Laurene and Marc Brown, “Two Homes” by Claire Masurel and “Divorce Is Not the End of the World” by Zoe and Evan Stern, along with many other useful titles. Give your kids appropriate books to read and then discuss them together.
Once divorced, if you have joint custody, you still need to work together in co-parenting. Rules and routines need to be as close as possible in both homes. These provide reassurance to kids. Avoid being critical of the other parent. Don’t try to outdo each other in buying or doing things for the kids. Parenting is not a competition.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RN, CS, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.