Divorce and separation: It’s all about the kids
One of the best things about getting a divorce is waking up one day and thinking, “At least I don’t have to spend another night with that loser!”*
One of the worst things about divorce is waking up one day and realising, “Hang on, we’ve got kids together. That loser and I are going to be stuck with each other for life.”
Because unless you live on different sides of the country, or there are custody orders that prevent your ex-partner spending time with your kids, you’re going to be need to have some kind of relationship with your former partner.
School life, sports, hobbies, play dates, medical issues – they all need to be discussed and dealt with by both parents, to ensure that the interests of your children are met.
And if you can put your differences aside to do so to provide a united front, so much the better.
Talking to your kids about divorce and separation
- In an ideal world, you would tell the children together, having discussed what you’re going to say first. Make sure you do this only once you know that your relationship is irretrievably broken down – if you’re separating to have time and space, it’s okay to tell the kids that.
- You may be surprised at how much the kids have picked up on already, particularly if there have been regular arguments and/or tears. They’re also masters at eavesdropping, particularly when they are supposed to be asleep!
- Make your conversation age-appropriate. Young children can be told that Mum and Dad aren’t getting along any more, whereas older kids may be able to handle more details. If in doubt, seek advice from a family counselor or their teachers first.
- Try to stay calm and reassuring. Little kids often worry over small details: Will they still get to go on play dates? Who will take them to gym and swimming? Older kids may demand more: Who did what to whom? Does Dad/Mum love someone else? Are you sure you won’t get back together?
- Be careful how much you say. You don’t have to go into the ins and outs of your entire relationship here, but it’s always best to be truthful. You definitely want to stay away from hurling insults about infidelities, betrayals or other issues in front of the kids. But best they hear it from you than someone else. “Mum and Dad have fallen out of love” is always a good one.
- Make sure your kids know the split is not their fault. Many will blame themselves, particularly if there were often family arguments about discipline, school work, going out, and/or behaviour. “If I hadn’t been as naughty/broken those toys/stayed out too late, Mum and Dad might not have fought, and then they might still love each other”, is how their brains work.
- Ensure your kids know that they are still part of a family. There may be two different houses now, but they still have two parents who love them very much, and who will always be there for them. Children brought up by two happy parents living apart are always going to do better than kids being brought up by unhappy parents who can’t stand to be in the same room as each other.
Getting advice from the professionals
However you want to talk to your kids, it’s a great idea to get your children’s carers, teachers and other professionals involved. You may find it hard to speak about your personal life at first, but it’s important they know what’s going on at home so they can help your kids cope at school whenever they are in their care. For example, following my split with my children’s father, my daughter would often feel teary and emotional at school, especially after drop-off, and her teachers took extra care helping her to settle in.
Children of all ages can have problems coming to terms with their new family make-up, especially if they are going between homes, and even more so if there’s an instant step-family to get used to. Consider counselling, if only for the short-term. Often kids feel guilty letting parents know they’re sad or unhappy with the changes in their lives, and an independent expert can help them express their feelings. They can then co-ordinate with you and the school if necessary to help ease the transition for your kids.
*I’m talking in generic terms here, not having a go at my ex.
This article was written by Bronnie Marquardt for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz