Regardless of your age, divorce can be a traumatic experience to go through. The breaking up of a family is difficult to experience without going through some degree of grief and confusion, especially for the children. It can even rob them of a sense of security. My sister went through a difficult divorce a couple of years ago and I must commend her on the way she handled the situation with her children.
Ginny has two children, a daughter aged 13 and a son aged 10, at the time of the divorce. I was an integral part of the entire process of transition, since Ginny moved in with me and my children when she moved out of her own home. She stayed with me for a little over seven months, through the legal proceedings and till she found an apartment for herself. This was possibly the most difficult part of the entire process for both my sister and her children.
Here are some things that helped us all, which I am sharing in the hope that it can help other families going through a similar situation.
Communication is Key
According to an article on Psychology Today, it is vital to talk to the children well before you leave your spouse. When you are honest with them, allowing them to express their own feelings too, it can be very reassuring. In fact, what most psychologists suggest is that rather than fighting in front of the children, bad-mouthing or blaming the other parent for the situation, both parents should present a united front, explaining in simple terms how the marriage is leading to the two spouses being unhappy. When you are straightforward and express your emotions in a helpful manner, it helps your children open up about their own feelings and fears. Of course, the conversation you have needs to be age-appropriate, so that your children understand what you wish to communicate. It is also reassuring to inform the kids about what arrangements the parents are making for their future well-being. This can include talking about where they will live, whether they will need to change schools, when they can meet the other parents and so on. Continued and open communication cannot be overemphasized.
Love & Reassurance
Studies have revealed that children often blame themselves for their parents splitting up. It is, therefore, important to reassure them that the divorce is not because of them and that the two of you love them as much, regardless of whether you are married to each other or not. It is important to let the kids know that nothing they do could have either incited or prevented the divorce. Make sure to tell them that their relationship with both parents remains unchanged and they are as valued and loved as they always have been and that they too should continue to love both parents equally, just as before. An article on WebMD quoted family therapist and author, Isolina Ricci, as saying, “When children are free to love both of their parents without conflict of loyalty, to have access to them both without fear of losing either, they can get on with the totally absorbing business of growing up, on schedule.”
Given how stressful the breakup of a marriage can be, it is important to find family members and friends that you can lean on. If you have an outlet for your own anger, frustration and stress, you will not give vent to negative feelings in front of the children. My sister and I used to have long conversations while the children were in school, where I encouraged her to let out all her feelings and get back a measure of control, so that once she was with the children, she was her usual humorous, happy self. On the other hand, not matter how hard you try, there are times when you must seek professional help. While some children are able to cope with their parents’ separation with comparatively fewer problems, others have a much more difficult time. It is important to recognize what each child is going through. According to an expert child therapist at the IPG Institute for Personal Growth, while some degree of anger, anxiety and even mild depression is common to children working their way through parental divorce, if things do not improve even after several months and there is continued anger, anxiety or depression, it is important to seek professional counseling. Some of the warning signs that you need to seek help include sleep problems, trouble at school, difficulty in concentration, self-injury or eating disorders, refusing to participate in their favorite activities, frequent anger outburst, withdrawing from loved ones and drug or alcohol abuse.
In Ginny’s case, while her son was able to cope with the separation and seemed to be back to his usual self once he settled down in his new school, her daughter needed a little more hand-holding. We sought counseling and it was the best decision we made. Today, the three of them live together happily, with the children visiting their father on a couple of weekends each month. Even the relationship between Ginny and her ex-husband is more cordial than it has been for a long time.