Divorce is not entirely about you and your ex-spouse. As difficult as it can be to admit, there are other people that are affected when you end your commitment. The challenges in that reality become apparent the second that you stare into the faces of the children that you share with your ex-spouse, and you are faced with complex emotions and hard questions.
There is nothing leading up to this moment that will prepare you for the weight of these questions. Your children have depended on you and your co-parent their entire lives, and now, they have been thrust into a brand new set of circumstances.
For children in the parental divorce experience, this can be traumatic. Depending on their age, they can find themselves reacting in a variety of ways.
Age and maturity
Toddlers have yet to develop the coping skills necessary to adjust to such a dramatic life change, leaving them vulnerable to emotional problems later in life.
For preschoolers, they will want their parents to stay together regardless of how unpleasant the home environment is.
For school-age children, their understanding of the divorce experience entirely will be based on their age and maturity. Children younger than age 8 are less likely to understand what is occurring and more likely to blame themselves for the end of your marriage.
Children ages 8 to 11 are prone to choosing sides and blaming one parent over another. This can add fuel to any existing parental alienation taking place, putting your relationship with your child in jeopardy.
A parental divorce has the potential to disrupt the development and maturation of a teenager, even though they are more likely to understand the complexities of the divorce experience. They also are more likely to assign blame and become more judgmental in these circumstances.
Questions and context
Part of the problem stems from the parental behavior of not sharing information with the children caught in the crossfire. As a parent, you may want to prevent that from occurring by simplifying many of the issues involved in this situation, while still holding many of the details back in an effort to preserve all parent-child relationships involved.
Additionally, children often do not understand the complexities involved in many of the questions that they may ask. They may want to know more about a specific part of your marriage that you or your ex-spouse would want to remain private. As a parent, you may not trust their ability to be discrete with information quite yet.
Special times of the year
They may have questions regarding special times of the year, such as birthdays or holidays. With birthdays, this can be handled one of two ways, depending on the civility between you and your co-parent. You can host separate birthday parties, if you feel that party goers will not be able to be the mature adults that the child requires, or if your child is insistent upon having one birthday party, it is vital to keep your composure and stay civil for the sake of your shared child.
As far as holidays are concerned, they typically are kept separate. You will have to utilize your parenting plan or child custody agreement, in order to identify which parent gets which holiday with the children. Depending on the holiday and the significance of it to each individual child, you may have to comfort them during these difficult times.
Helping your children accept the answers that you give them to the questions that they ask hopefully will bring them the comfort that they are looking for, but that just as easily may not be enough. Because they do not always have the ability to understand the issues facing a faltering marriage, they may lash out.
As a parent, it is important for you to help them understand that just because you and your co-parent are divorced, it does not make you any less of a parent to them. You still are their family, and they need to see and accept that reality.
Resources to use
Additionally, there are countless resources that you can utilize, in order to help your child adjust to the new situation. Many of these are activities that you can do with your child, such as drawing, exercising, writing, and just talking about what they are feeling.
You also can utilize the services of a mental health professional, who is trained to deal with children and the various emotional issues that can arise during a parental divorce. In utilizing a mental health professional’s services, you are putting your child in the hands of someone who can help them through this challenging time, and thus, you are putting your child first.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.