Getting a divorce is not easy for anyone. Whether you were not married for very long, or are splitting up after a lifetime of commitment, the process of divorce is often uncomfortable and discouraging.
One of the most difficult scenarios is when couples divorce after having children. Telling your child or children that you are seeking a divorce is incredibly tricky, regardless of the ages, genders, or personalities of your children. Many children feel new or unexpected emotions after this disclosure, and it’s not uncommon for them to have outbursts or emotional reactions to your news. If your children are minors, the question of child custody and support will come up during your divorce as well, as your family endures a changing structure. All of this can be a lot to handle.
Fortunately, there are ways to make the process easier. Though the divorce conversation will likely never be easy, it can be made simpler with these few tips and ideas.
- Be Honest
This might be the most difficult trait to emulate in the conversation, so it is important to practice what you are going to say and what the root of your feelings is. Of course, there is no need to disclose unnecessary or inappropriate details but try to be as honest as possible while remaining succinct and clear.
For example, say something like, “Mom and mommy still care for each other, but being married is not healthy for us anymore. We’re going to get a divorce because our relationship is changing, and that’s okay.” This is clear and honest and does not muddle the message with childish language. It also leaves room for them to ask questions if they want to and provides them with a framework for clear communication as they grow up.
- Remind Them That You Love Them
It may seem absurd to you, but many children feel as though their parents’ divorce is their fault. This is because children often pick up on and take responsibility for the emotions that surround them. After you disclose your plan to divorce, remind your child that you love them very much. Tell them that nothing, not even a changing family, could stop you from loving them. Remind them that the situation has nothing to do with them, it is not their fault, and that they will always be loved by both their parents.
- Lay Out What Will Change
The uncertainty of divorce is often very difficult for children. For young children especially, it is important to let them know what kind of changes they can expect. This will make them feel more at ease with the situation. Let them know if their school or school schedule will be different. Tell them who will pick them up and drop them off, and where they will sleep. Lay out a framework for when they will see their friends, watch TV and movies, and see relatives. The more information you can give them about what will change and what will not, the more comfortable they will be.
- Let Them Process
Everyone processes emotions in different ways, even adults. For children, these reactions can vary greatly. It is important to remember that they are just children, and don’t have the ability to responsibly express and process emotions all of the time. Let them process how they need to and remind yourself that it is healthier to allow them to work through their feelings than try to force them to behave in a certain way. If they cry and scream and throw a tantrum, try to remain calm and offer them support. If they wish to be alone, allow them some space.
While they process, calmly remind them of the resources at their disposal. Let them know that you are there if they want to talk, need a hug, or have any questions. You are their parent, and they will likely turn to you at some point for emotional guidance. It is important that you are ready to give them the space to have their own feelings without inserting yours.
- Validate Their Feelings
One of the best things you can do for emotional children (and adults) is let them know that their feelings are valid. Though they may not make sense to you, understand that trying to reason them out of their feelings or tell them how they should act will only make things worse. If they are crying and talking about how sad the situation is, say something like, “you’re right, this is sad! It makes sense that you feel sadness right now.”
Some kids may not be able to express their feelings with words, but instead will use actions. For example, a child throwing a tantrum is likely angry, but doesn’t know how to express that. Helping them express themselves can make them feel better. In this scenario, saying something like, “I am sensing that maybe you are angry or upset. If that’s true, I understand. I feel angry and upset too sometimes.” This makes them feel seen, heard, and less alone.
- Provide Them With Resources
Offer your child quiet, age-appropriate resources to help them process. Some children like to use paper and markers to draw and color while they process their feelings. Others may benefit from a book or guide on divorcing parents. Yet others may be soothed by seeing a therapist or counselor to help them through this time.
- Extend Patience
It can be extremely difficult to endure the emotions of your child when you feel emotional yourself. However, as a parent, it is your job to be mature and allow your child to express themselves. Be patient and understanding with their reactions and emotions, and try to be as gentle and calm as possible. If you feel that they are lashing out, turn to a counselor or child psychologist for help. No matter what, try to remain calm and patient about your child’s emotions. Though they may be irritating to you, they are often new and scary for your child.
For legal help with your divorce or child custody case, contact the attorneys at Stange Law Firm. We provide comprehensive family law services in Springfield, IL, and we would be happy to help your family make this transition safely and smoothly. Contact us today.