This post isn't about the reasons for divorce or whether it's right or wrong; it's about the children who are also living through the sadness and devastation along with you.
Divorce is hard for everyone and each person handles it differently, but when it comes to children, the drastic change in family dynamics can feel especially confusing and frightening.
In the article,The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents, Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D. writes:
Divorce introduces a massive change into the life of a boy or girl no matter what the age. Witnessing loss of love between parents, having parents break their marriage commitment, adjusting to going back and forth between two different households, and the daily absence of one parent while living with the other, all create a challenging new family circumstance in which to live. In the personal history of the boy or girl, parental divorce is a watershed event. Life that follows is significantly changed from how life was before.
As you navigate your own emotions, remember those of your children. Managing it all may seem overwhelming, but here are a few key things to remember as you walk with your children through the divorce journey.
1. Keep visible conflict, heated discussions, and legal talk away from the kids.
Conflict and hard conversations will happen if they haven't started already. For most, it's the reality of the situation. So, instead of avoiding them, set healthy guidelines.
The first guideline to establish—and maybe the most important—is keeping these interactions away from the kids. The others can be up for discussion.
Your interactions may need to happen when a mediator is available, or perhaps email or text would function sufficiently. You may try one method and realize it's not working. If that's the case, try another. Whatever happens, don't give up and don't allow arguments to happen face-to-face or over the phone—little ears pick up a lot.
2. Never talk badly about the other parent—even when they're not present.
Don't rob your children of the opportunity to love their other parent. You can do that by talking badly about that parent. You may think your ex is a terrible person or poor spouse, but they might be a decent parent. If they are, saying hurtful things about that person in front of your kids may cause issues. You could cause your children to feel emotionally burdened or as though it's wrong to love their other parent.
So, before saying something bad about the other parent—even though it may be true—choose to keep it to yourself. If need be, save it until you can share it in a safe space. As you work through those raw and resentful emotions, seek support from friends, professionals, pastors, and family members outside the home—don't bottle it in, say regretful things or pit your kids against the other parent.
3. Minimize the disruptions to kids' daily routines.
In many cases, during a separation or divorce, everything changes—including living arrangements and schedules. While this is hard for everyone, it's particularly hard on children who developmentally thrive on routine.
Children & Divorce: 5 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Cope by Lene Larsen, Ph.D. says,
Minimize disruptions to your child’s daily routine as much as possible. That is, try to avoid changes in school, neighborhood, and social activities. Stability and predictability help children feel safe and provide a sense of control. Inform teachers and other important adults about what is going on, so they can be available for additional support. Maintain your previous expectations in terms of your child’s behavior. It may seem okay to give your child a pass on chores, homework, or bedtime, but that is a bad idea. Your child can feel sad and have “bad days,” but in general you want to maintain your house rules and discipline as before to provide stability and consistency.
Try to keep some if not most of these core activities in place:
- Morning routine
- After school routine
- Bedtime routine
- Extracurriculars (piano lessons, ballet, soccer, etc.)
- Social interests (church events, club meetings, play dates, etc.)
4. Let them talk while you listen.
Reassure your children that whatever they're feeling is OK and that you will not get angry or upset even if they're upset at you. This is a confusing time for them—they're not sure who's at fault or who they can trust. It's best to simply listen. By listening you're encouraging safe and open communication that invites honest questions, accepts raw feelings, and will eventually help to minimize tension and facilitate coping.
Avoid saying these statements which suggest that feeling scared and sad is not OK:
- You're OK
- Be brave
- Don’t cry
- You need to set a good example for your brother/sister
- Being sad/angry isn't going to change anything
- If you don't stop acting like this, I'm going to...
Look for different ways to help your children express their feelings, but most of all, always provide opportunities for them to talk then be prepared to listen.
5. Take a trip together . . . or alone.
Taking a short trip every now and again may help you reset and may serve as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your children and vice versa.
While you could go anywhere to get away for a weekend or several days, we suggest coming to Sandy Cove where you'll be surrounded by other Christians without judgment.
Come as you are—broken, sad, scared, angry—and experience God's presence first hand. Our mission at Sandy Cove is to help you connect with God and each other. So, bring your kids and come expecting.
Have you ever been to Family Camp? If not, you should! We offer 50% off for first-time attendees, so don't let finances hold you back. And, we offer special scholarships for single parents.
If you need to get away for personal refreshment—spiritual rejuvenation and emotional encouragement—consider one of our gender-specific events.
6. Trust and pray every day.
You can have all the right tools in your co-parenting and single-parenting toolkit, but if you don't have Jesus, you'll fall flat. Knowing that you can trust God's Word and communicate directly with Him through prayer gives great hope, inner peace, and joy.
While you love your children more than words can express, and it may break your heart that they're experiencing deep heartache at such an early age, remember that God loves them even more than you ever could. But best of all, He is in control. So, trust and pray! God will guide you through every low point and impossible moment.
Psalm 34:15: “The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry.”
Psalm 5:3: “In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
1 John 5:14: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
While there are other things you can consider—like taking your child to see a Christian counselor, asking your church leaders for prayer, reading helpful divorce recovery books—remember the advice listed above and remember that the passing of time is a huge component of the healing process.
Here are a few other helpful resources:
- Helping Your Child Through A Divorce [article]
- Helping Children Survive Divorce By Dr. Archibald D. Hart [book]
- It's Okay to Cry: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children Through the Losses of Life by H. Norman Wright [book]
- Collateral Damage: Guiding and Protecting Your Child Through the Minefield of Divorce by Dr. John Chirban [audio book]