How to separate without doing your child any lasting damage.
There is no doubt that divorce is a emotive subject and while we never come out of it fully unscathed, I do think that there are ways to make the process a little easier for your children. Divorce can sometimes be the best thing for all concerned and I do believe that being in an environment where all parties are happier is a much better message to give our children than staying together for the children, yet everyone being miserable.
When my eldest child was three I decided to leave her father and while the circumstances were horrible, I always made sure that I kept a level head and never brought her into the whole drama of the situation. I am living proof that you can get through a very bitter breakup without doing your children unnecessary harm.
Be Truthful – most divorces are to do with lack of communication, trust or one party not being truthful. End this now – decide to be truthful with your child (as much as their age allows) – tell them the truth of the situation and keep them informed of what is happening at every step. Being truthful is not the same as blaming, being angry and asking the teen to choose – it is telling them the truth in a neutral way, one that has no charge and does not apportion blame. If both parties can be present at this point here it allows the child to see that you are both dealing with this as responsible adults. It will help then feel more secure. Children like nothing less than being forced to choose sides.
Allow your child to feel their own pain – while there is certainly pain here for you as a parent, there is some for the child too. Allow your child to feel whatever they need to – anger, hurt, frustration, betrayal. Do not try to fix it. Just allow them to have these feelings. Allow them to shout, cry; do whatever, just as you have had your chance to. Do not justify your actions. Just ask your child what support they need from you right now.
Keep them informed (in an age appropriate way) – allow them the courtesy of knowing how this will affect them – how often will they see Mum or Dad. Often children feel that they will never see the other party and they are confused – put their mind at rest. Ask them what questions, concerns and challenges they have with the divorce and let them have their say.
Consistent Parenting- ensures that although you as the parents are splitting up, you still have a consistent parenting method between you. If the child will be staying with each parent separately, then what are the guidelines about curfew, etc? Do not allow your child to play one parent off against the other. Make agreements between you about how you will parent this child now that you are living separate lives.
Listen, listen, listen – when your child talks about this, keep your mouth shut. Let them have their say however hurtful it may be. You do not know what this feels like for your child, so do not try to pretend. Attempt to see the situation through their eyes and listen and acknowledge what they say. There is nothing you can say to fix this, so just let this teen be heard.
Ask them if they think you understand their confusion - This shows that you are considering their feelings. It gives them permission to raise questions and talk things through when they may feel that it’s all too painful for you and they should be protecting you in some way. If they don’t feel you understand their confusion, ask them what they need – it’s just as painful for them as they are torn in half between their love and loyalty for each parent.
Support them – more than ever your child is going to need to know you support them, even if you don’t feel all that strong yourself. Ask them if they feel supported by you. Let them tell you what they need to feel supported and create that environment together for each other.
Show your appreciation – it’s easy to get caught up in your own world when a relationship ends. Remember to show your appreciation for the care and support your child shows, even if all they do is put out the rubbish, walk the dog or make you tea without being asked. It’s their way of looking after you. They may not acknowledge your appreciation audibly and be sure that they will notice if it’s lacking.
Respect their reaction – are you behaving as rationally and responsibly as you did before this bombshell landed? Be aware that your child may react rebelliously to the situation. Find a quality that you continue to respect in them and tell them. Separate any behaviour from who they are as an inherently loving human being.
Include them in decisions wherever possible– if you have to move home, include them in the house-hunting process. They are being as disrupted as you are and need to feel they have some control. Seemingly small actions could create big reactions if decisions around them are not discussed and shared. Put yourself in their shoes every step of the way.
You can speak to Sarah for more individual parenting advice via her Greatvine profile.
You can view the full list of Greatvine experts who can offer divorce advice or help your child cope with divorce.