During the painful and complicated divorce process, it sometimes seems like everything is falling apart. It’s easy to feel lost in the many variables and uncertainties.
Things are even thornier—logistically and emotionally—for couples with children.
As hard as divorce is for adults, it’s important to remember that all this upheaval can make a child feel unsettled, insecure, confused, and anxious.
One of the most significant ways to support your child through a divorce is by providing stability and normalcy. Here are seven tips for helping your child feel safe, secure, and cared for during this rocky time and as you begin family life in a new form.
Tell the truth, but just enough. Children, especially younger ones, can’t understand grown-up problems. Then again, the not knowing can make their imaginations run wild. Many children suffer guilt and worry that they’re somehow responsible. As a couple, decide together on an explanation for your split that you will share with your child. Keep it simple, honest, and age-appropriate—and stick to it. State clearly to your child that the divorce is not their fault. Emphasize that although some things will be different now, your love for them will never change.
Stay positive and reassuring. Despite your heartache and concerns about the future, it’s essential to be as upbeat as possible for your child. Kids pick up on our emotions and anxieties. Don’t fight in front of the kids. Don’t discuss financial worries and woes while they’re in earshot. It’s the parents’ job to reassure the child that, even in tough times, you (both) are there to love, care, and provide for them. Let them know that it will be okay even though things are hard right now.
Stick to your routine. Children thrive on structure and routine. Knowing what happens next helps them feel confident and secure. Divorce is a big adjustment in and of itself, and it inevitably brings many changes—too many can be overwhelming. Predictability can help your child feel more normal. Control the variables you can control. If you’re the custodial parent, maintain the morning, meal, bedtime schedule, the usual activities, lessons, chores, homework, etc. If you’re a noncustodial parent, be reliable in your visitation schedule; be there when your child expects you, and (unless you and your ex are on good terms) don’t show up unannounced, which can cause tension and disruption.
Establish rules and boundaries; be consistent. When life is messy, and you know your child is hurting, it’s tempting to over-indulge them or become lax about rules and expectations. But consistency—both day-to-day and between the households—will provide stability. Boundaries help a child feel safe and cared for, even if they push back. You and your ex may have different parenting styles, but decide on foundational rules and principles. Be careful not to undermine your co-parent’s authority. Presenting a united front will help your child feel more stable.
Work together to create your parenting plan. A parenting plan is more inclusive and detailed than your custody and visitation orders. It can cover various issues, including schedules, routines, rules, and other factors that help provide stability. Remember that the point of the parenting plan is to put your children first, protect them from the conflict you are working through as a couple, and support meaningful relationships with both parents. Try to set aside your differences and seek common ground on child-related matters.
Take the high road. Don’t badmouth your ex around your kids. When parents speak negatively about one another, the child feels caught in the middle or pressured to choose sides, which is painful and anxiety-producing.
Take care of yourself. It may sound trite, but it’s hard to project strength, stability, and positivity—and provide it for your children—if you’re going to pieces. In this challenging time, self-care (whatever that means to you) is crucial. Carve out private time to recharge. Eat healthy food, exercise, spend time outdoors, write in your journal, lean on supportive friends, and seek therapy.
The caring and experienced family lawyers at SFLG understand the turmoil of divorce and the importance of maintaining stability for your children. From peaceful parenting plans to complicated litigation, we help smooth the process so you can focus on your family.
By Debra Schoenberg