As a parent, there are times when seeing through the eyes of your children is necessary. Understanding any reaction they have to a challenging situation may require seeing the situation from their perspective, especially when it comes to a parental divorce.
Your children came into this family relying on two adults that loved them from the moment that they laid eyes upon them. They have been there to feed them, clothe them, wash them, and put them to bed. They have taken them to school and put a roof over their heads. They fostered a home and a life that they relied on.
When you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse begins explaining in the simplest terms what a divorce means for the only family dynamic that your children have ever known, it can cause a wide range of reactions.
Range of risks
Their age and maturity can play a factor in their understanding of context and voice. The way a parental divorce is communicated to them is just as important as the fact that it is. Additionally, these same factors can incite specific behaviors, brought on by a parental divorce, such as academic achievement, dropping out of high school, rebelliousness, and disciplinary issues in both their school and social lives.
You cannot be a parent who is afraid to address your divorce to your children, nor their subsequent behavior. If they are acting out, it needs to be addressed and discussed. You need to create an open line of communication that does not punish the desire to discuss uncomfortable topics.
Depending on their age, ongoing bad behavior, as a result of a parental divorce, can come with larger consequence, especially when it involves the abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Help your children
As a parent, these are risks you have to be cognizant of. You cannot set them aside, in favor of dealing with your own emotional health. You would not be putting your child first, and as a parent, you would be failing them.
However, there are methods of helping your children through this difficult time and helping them achieve the level of acceptance that you desire for them. It can be beneficial to contact a mental health professional, in order to help your child deal with the complex emotional landscape that they are forced to deal with, due to a parental divorce.
Many states also offer classes for children with divorced parents, giving them the opportunity to express their emotions and inform themselves of what divorce is and what it means moving forward.
In the state of Utah, a Divorce Education for Children class is available free for children ages 9 to 12 years old, whose parents have filed for divorce or who have gone through a divorce. The program is not required of children of divorce and is intended to help them identify feelings common to children in divorce situations, while teaching communication skills to empower children to express their feelings.
In the Miami-Dade County Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit, similar classes are required for children between the ages of 6 and 17, and parents are required to attend an additional four hour parenting course, designed to help them focus on what is in the best interests of the children.
For the children, their course is three and a half hours and helps them feel more comfortable with sharing their thoughts and feelings about their parental divorce through drawing, role playing, and creative writing.
If you have multiple children, studies have shown that they have the ability to help one another through the various challenges of a parental divorce. In their study, Smith College researchers found that positive sibling relationships have the potential to help children and adolescents both cope with and adjust to parental divorce by acting as a source of comfort, stability, and support in times of familial stress and change.
The study also found that separatism, parental favoritism, and a lack of parental communication/support during a parental divorce can negatively affect the sibling relationship, thus undermining the adjustment to the new situation.
You want your children to develop as healthy and well-adjusted as humanly possible, and while divorce can be emotionally challenging, maintaining an active relationship with your children and giving them the opportunity to communicate their thoughts and feelings with you is essential in helping them gain acceptance of the new normal.