Separation and divorce is a very scary and confusing time for children and they often do not have the communication tools that they require to let parents know what they are feeling or experiencing. The role of a parent is to educate and nurture their children to the best of their ability. However, the age of the children and the uncertainty that are feeling will have a huge impact on how they perceive the separation and how they understand the new family dynamic. There are many underlying emotions that the children will experience and parents may be excluded or unaware of the complexity of what their children feel or thinks. To help parents and children adjust to the family transitions, we have prepared some guidelines:
- Children will be better able to cope if their parents can be seen to share the responsibility for their welfare. So, telling them together about when and what is going to happen will show them that you can still be Mom and Dad even though you’re not together as a couple any more.
- While you want to be open and honest with the children, try to keep in mind what they can cope with at their different ages. They do not need to know every single detail about what has gone wrong, nor should they be involved in any conflict between you and your partner.
- Try to keep as normal a routine as possible going. When the routine has to change, introduce the changes as slowly as you can and talk them through with the children.
- Remind them that you will always be their parents even though you may not be a couple any longer
- Reassure them that it’s not their fault that you have decided to separate – this is between the two of you.
- Do everything you can to help yourselves adjust to your new situation, especially if you are the parent with primary residence. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings and may see and be affected by a parent’s state of happiness or any lingering bitterness or animosity.
- Reassure them that you have decided to separate from each other but not from them; you are still their parents.
- Do not put the children in a position where they have to choose between the two of you. The children should never feel as if they have to choose sides, they should only feel that their parents love them unconditionally. Even a simple act such as asking a child to pass along a message or mentioning that financial or custody arrangements are interfering with a scheduled trip, may cause the children emotional distress.
- Always try and speak in a positive and encouraging manner about your ex-partner. Hearing a nasty comment about a parent will always cause a child to feel anger and distress, regardless of the source. Remember, the child is 50% you and 50% your ex-partner; denigrating your ex-partner is denigrating half of your child! That’s how your child will internalize it!
- Try and understand the situation from the child’s perspective. For example, your ex-partner may have a new romantic interest that your child will meet. While you may not approve of this new relationship, it is important not to send this message to the child. Your child may enjoy the attention and affection of your ex-partner’s new romantic interest and shouldn’t feel guilty or that they are betraying you because of this. Ultimately, your child will always grow and benefit from love, affection and encouragement and, while it may be difficult for you, keeping the child’s welfare in mind in this new dynamic is crucially important.
– Jon Himelfarb, Father and Friend