“Be present with your kids. Throw the ball with them now. Take them to the beach today. These are things that children remember, and it is a wonderful strategy for reducing anxiety.”
–Dr. Wayne Dyer
What can you do to lessen the long lasting effects your divorce will have on your children? Over a million children experience the divorce of their parents each year, and the trauma usually begins with distress in the home long before there is an actual separation and divorce. Children grieve over the divorce just as their parents do. They are losing their secure image of a mom and dad always together. Although you can’t spare your children the process of grieving, putting their feelings first and continuing to function well as a parent will help greatly.
Children face many fears when parents divorce. The more conflict they witness between their parents, the harder it is for them to accept and adjust to the new life situation they are presented with. Conditions that affect children’s ability to deal with divorce include: the quality of their relationship with each of their parents before separation, the intensity of their parents’ conflict, and the parents’ ability to focus on the children’s needs. It’s normal for kids to feel anger, anxiety, and mild depression.
What Do Kids Want and Need?
Here, from the University of Missouri, is a list of what children want and need from their divorcing parents:
- Children need both parents to stay involved in their lives. When a parent doesn’t stay involved, children feel like they are not important and not really loved.
- Children want parents to stop fighting and work to get along with each other. They want their parents to try to agree on matters related to them. When kids see their parents fighting about them, they think they did something wrong and feel guilty.
- Children want permission to love both parents and to enjoy the time they spend with each one with no pressure to take sides and to love one parent more than the other.
- Children want one parent to say only nice things when talking about the other, or say nothing at all. When one parent says mean, unkind things about the other, the child feels like he is expected to take sides.
- Children want both parents to be part of their lives. Children count on their mom and dad to raise them, to teach them what is important, and to help them when they have problems.
Remember the Big Picture
You are in charge when it comes to helping your kids adjust to divorce. Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimize tension as children learn to cope with new life circumstances. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. If you can maintain a good working relationship with your former spouse, you can help kids avoid the stress that comes with watching parents in conflict. The difficult transition of divorce can’t be without some measure of hardship, but you can greatly reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority.
What’s best for your kids in the long run (and for you, too)? It’s for the children to have a good relationship with both of their parents throughout their lives. The long-term goals are your children’s good physical and mental health and your healthy independence and inner peace. The well-being and happiness of everyone involved should be the vision for your new lives after divorce.