"Make sure your child knows that they will always be your No. 1 priority."
The wide array of emotions that a child of divorce may convey during the divorce experience is important to their health and mental wellness. It gives them a chance to say what they want to say about the ordeal and helps them understand the trauma. This level of understanding gives them the chance to move on from it one day and grow because of it.
However, depending on their age, maturity, personality, or a variety of other factors, they may not convey the sentiments or emotions that they are feeling. They may not feel confident in their own voice, or they may have guilt, blaming themselves for the divorce in the first place.
Whatever the reasoning may be, there may be a lot left unsaid that a child of divorce wishes to communicate to their parents.
1. “Who am I without my parents being married?”
Many younger children have a hard time thinking about themselves as individuals, so when an action is taken within their family dynamic that is independent of them, they are forced to confront the reality of their own individuality.
That starts with seeing themselves independent from other members of their immediate family. A parental divorce can be that type of reality check for them, that they may simply not be ready for. They may be at an age where they still are unsure of whom they are, let alone who they are without their parents being married.
It can be seen as an irrational sentiment, but it is one that children wrestle with. The children in question, a product of a marriage, may not know any other life, but the one where their parents live together and enjoy their life as a married couple. This is the life, where they enjoy spending time as a family all under the same roof. Without the only structure they’ve ever known, many children no longer feel like they know themselves.
2.“What will happen to our family pet?”
Children of divorce can find themselves in a constant state of flux and may be in need of the familiarity and comfort of something from their previous situation. For many children, that means their family pet.
Whether it is a dog, a cat, a bird, a fish, or even a lizard, a family pet can be an outlet that a child leans on, in order to sort the emotional landscape of the divorce experience.
However, the complications involved in pet custody may surface, forcing a child to spend time at one parent’s house, who may no longer have custody of the family pet. This means that during this time, they would be without that emotional support.
In these instances, it is beneficial to allow a pet’s custody to be transferred between houses, in order to ensure a child’s smooth transition to post-divorce life with the receiving parent.
3.“Do other families go through this?”
Given the “me-centric-ness” of a child’s outlook during their younger years, it is understandable that a child would be unaware of the commonality of divorce.
However, it may be a sentiment that a child is hesitant to express. With all of the adult things that a child is being exposed to during the divorce experience, they may feel like they’re being asked to grow up, and for many children, that means knowing information. Admitting ignorance would then be seen as a step against that type of growth.
For parents, it is important recognize any and all signs that your child feels like he or she is being asked to grow up too quickly. The importance of consistency and communication between co-parents cannot be understated. This is about the well-being of your child, which means that past history needs to be set aside for the child’s sake.
4. “Will Mom/Dad have room for me at their new home?”
When explaining the concept of the two parents living in separate locations, a child is forced to face the unknown of a new location. One of their parents will have a new home, which means they will be spending time there as well.
They may not understand the idea of having two homes quite yet, so the question of whether or not the noncustodial parent will have room for them, may be on their minds.
It is important for the parents to establish the idea that a child will not only have their own space at the noncustodial parent’s home, but that they should think of that home as their own, as well. It can be a difficult concept to convey, but after time passes, they should be able to adjust and enjoy the comforts of both of their homes.
5.“How do I fit in Mom/Dad’s new life?”
One of the greatest fears a child may have is being forgotten. Even as an adult, no one enjoys the feeling that they have been left out in some capacity, and that feeling is amplified tenfold when the person potentially leaving one out is a parent.
When a young child of divorce sees all of these changes occurring in their life and the lives of their parents, they are forced to deal with the reality that life does not revolve around them and that their parents have lives of their own, outside of the child’s needs.
This realization is paired with the reality that both parents are not at a child’s beckoned call. Without having both of them in the same household, a child may begin to wonder what their place is in the life of the noncustodial parent.
A child may express these feelings in a variety of ways, such as acting out or becoming withdrawn, and it is a parent’s responsibility to assuage any and all concerns that a child may have, regarding their place in the parent’s life.
A parent’s relationship with their child is very important, and the custodial parent should be able to realize how difficult this time is for the child and how beneficial having a relationship with the noncustodial parent is for the child.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for all custody situations, and many noncustodial parents are forced to deal with the harsh reality of not being able to comfort their children in these times of distress.
However, there are ways of making a child feel important and reassuring them that they have a place in a child’s life. Invest your time and energy into getting to know their routine. Learn about their school schedule. Attend a parent-teacher conference. Contact a coach, and find out when their games are. Sit in the stands, and make sure your child knows that they will always be your No. 1 priority.
Communication and patience
Whether you are an adult or a child, communicating your feelings about a divorce you are caught up in is challenging. Children may not have the vocabulary to properly illustrate the complexity of their emotions, regarding the situation. They may not fully understand all of what they speak of, or they may be afraid to speak at all.
Whatever the case may be, you, as a parent, need to continue to put your child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs first during this challenging time and try your best to be what they need during this trying time.
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.