Sometimes, things just don’t work out with your partner, and that’s totally OK. And sometimes, “staying together for the kids” may do more harm than good, especially if you’re constantly fighting and bickering all the time, or displaying unhealthy relationship patterns. Kids definitely pick up on and internalize a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes. If you’re in this unfortunate situation, you may be wondering how best to break it to your kids. Experts say there are things no one tells kids during a divorce but should, and knowing them can give you a little help on how to discuss such a hard and sensitive topic. Because let’s face it, no matter what, divorce sucks all around, even if it is for the best.
Niche dating site founder Dr. Wyatt Fisher, who is also a licensed psychologist, says in an email interview with Romper, “Divorce has a negative impact on all children on some level because the security of their world is severely cracked. However, to help minimize the impact, remember consistency is the key.” Wyatt suggests keeping your kids in the same home, the same schools, and the same routines they had before the divorce, and to make sure the parent who ends up moving out continues to see the kids on a regular basis to maintain a relationship. It's important that the children know the other partner is still interested in them and a huge part of their life. In addition to these ways to minimize impact, it’s important to talk to your children about their concerns, and address the situation “through the lens of a child,” according to Wyatt. Keep in mind most of these suggestions are based on the fact that there was no abuse or crime involved, and your partner can still safely be involved in your lives.
1. Your Partner Is Not A Villain
You may feel like your partner is the scum of the earth and you hope they rot, but to your kid, that’s still their parent, and as far as they know, he or she didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. When you tell your kids you’re getting a divorce, make sure to tell them you still think your (former) significant other is a good person and “they still love you” even if you're hurt or angry.
2. It’s Not Their Fault
Even though every parent (hopefully) tells their kid that the divorce isn’t his or her fault, make sure that is crystal clear from the very beginning. How can you ensure they know this even if you do tell them? Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Wyatt says you can hone in the message "by having both parents continue to spend quality time with them. For example, if a child thinks their father is leaving because it's their fault and then if the father moves out and doesn't see them much anymore, it can reinforce the message it must have been their fault. Therefore, it's essential for the parent moving out to continually spend quality time with the child to reinforce it wasn't their fault and they still love them.”
3. They Won’t Be Asked To Choose Or Be Put In The Middle
When you’re a kid going through divorce, nothing is worse than feeling like you have to choose between the two people you love most in the world. You start thinking something must also be wrong with you and you're a bad person if you still love one parent, in addition to the other, especially since "mom hates dad." Wyatt suggests that you "keep your tone neutral and empathic toward your ex when talking to your child. One of the worst things you can do is criticize your ex to your child, and even worse would be trying to convince them why they shouldn't see your ex anymore. Instead, remember that your child continuing to have a loving connection with your ex is essential to their development, so encourage it through your words and actions.” Also, don't let them "pick" which house they want to go to and what schedule you want to have. Trust me. They'll always feel like they're hurting the other parent's feelings.
4. They’ll Be Able To Continue With Their Activities Like Normal
Hopefully, your ex will be able to move somewhat close to where your kid currently goes to school, and where their activities are. Friends and extracurriculars are what gives your kid an identity and sense of self and helps them learn what they enjoy. How hard would it be to not only be going through the change in their own safe place, their home, but also having to start at a new school or make new friends? Or leave activities that make them happy and the friends they’ve made at said activities? Since such a huge life change is already happening, maybe try to leave the other things be for a while.
5. You’re Still A Family
Remember at the end of the movie Mrs. Doubtfire when Robin Williams is reading a letter from a fan on his TV show and he talks about how there are all types of families out there, "but if there's love, dear, those are the ties that bind and you'll have a family in your heart forever"? Did anyone else sob when they saw that, and still get choked up thinking about that part, or is it just me? That was such great information and so true. Make sure your kid knows you’re still a family, even though you and your partner are no longer living together. The two of you are still a team and both of you are always on your kid's side. Be sure to tell your kid that you and your partner will always have them in common and you both will always have their best interest at heart and they come first.
Divorce is a fact of life for many people, unfortunately. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to work things out, some situations are just too broken to fix, and it’s hard enough without throwing kids in the mix. My parents got divorced when I was 10, and you better believe (as an adult) I think it was for the best because they just weren't happy with each other. And nobody wants miserable parents, right? But if you do have kids, it’s especially important for them to still feel loved and valued by both of you, and that you let them know you’re there to hear any and all of their concerns and fears. What you say and do now can affect them for the rest of their lives. Just be loving and compassionate the best you can.
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