Birmingham AL Collaborative Divorce Law Blog

Friday, December 16, 2016

Navigating Divorce with Children

Five ways to ease the long-term effects

When it comes to how your divorce will affect your children, no one has a crystal ball. But there are some actions you can take to help ease the transition. Experts have found that children's psychological reactions to their parents' divorce vary in degree dependent on three factors:

  • The quality of their relationship with each of their parents before the separation;
  • The intensity and duration of the parental conflict;
  • The parents' ability to focus on the needs of children in their divorce.[1]

Although you can’t control your child’s response to divorce, keeping these three factors in mind, you may mitigate the impact by focusing on the following aspects of family life that are within your control.

Take Care of Yourself

Children — even older children and teens — can be emotional sponges. If you are stressed out, emotional or angry, chances are your child will be too. Try to set aside time to take care of yourself so that you can be a more effective parent. How? “Get help dealing with your own painful feelings about the divorce,” advises “This is not the time to go it alone. Find a support group, talk to others who have gone through this, use online resources, or ask your doctor or religious leaders to refer you to other resources.”

Consulting/retaining a divorce attorney to learn more about your choices and the law may help sooth any initial anxieties. This will help you to process your own feelings quicker and also provide a good example for your children on how to seek help when needed.

Observe the Three R’s

Life as they know it is changing, but you can still maintain a sense of decorum where it matters. “For the parent who divorces with a child, the priority is establishing a sense of family order and predictability,” says psychologist Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., Psychology Today contributor. “This means observing the three R's required to restore a child's trust in security, familiarity, and dependency: routines, rituals, and reassurance.”[2] 

Rather than focusing on all the changes, look for areas of your life that you can keep intact. Even keeping the little things constant — such as bedtime rituals, chores, mealtime prayers — can create a sense of greater stability. Likewise, when it comes time for your children to be with their mom or dad, keep to the agreed upon schedule.

Listen Closely

Children will have their own concerns about divorce that may be very different from your own. For example, younger children may worry about where their favorite toys will stay more than where they will be for Thanksgiving dinner. Teens may be chiefly focused on whether divorce means moving away from friends, and not about who will pay for college when the time comes. Try to maintain constancy with the things that are most important to their lives. 

Keep It Simple

Kids are inquisitive but it doesn’t mean you need to provide in-depth answers to every query. If your child asks why you are divorcing, keep your response short, thoughtful, without blame or recrimination, and in terms that are age appropriate. For example, “Your mom and I have decided that we need to live separately.” 

Protect Kids from Conflict

Likewise, avoid arguing with or talking negatively about the other parent in front of your children. Don’t use them as spies or messengers, or make them take sides. Researchers have consistently found that high levels of parental conflict during and after a divorce are associated with poorer adjustment in children. [3]

You cannot know definitively how your child will react to your divorce — or the long-reaching effects that it may or may not have. But doing your best to maintain a healthy attitude today can ease the difficult transition and set standards for the future. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that your children are watching, and for the most part, following your lead.  If you can adjust to the changes that divorce brings, they are more likely to be able to do so as well.

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