Children and Divorce
Children of any age can feel confused and worry about the future if their parents divorce. There are many changes which they don’t want or understand fully. Many children find this transition hard to accept and want their parents to remain together.
In BC family law, the best interest of the children determines parental rights and responsibilities after separation or divorce. Typically, this means minimizing changes for the children as much as possible by maintaining where they live, contact with both parents, financial support, health, school, social connections, religion and extra-curricular activities.
There are many ways parents can help their children. Each strategy needs to be tailored to the circumstances, temperament, maturity and curiosity of the child.
Be Honest: It helps if both parents together can openly and honestly discuss with the children why they are divorcing. Each person taking ownership for his/her contribution to the marriage breakdown without sordid details is important. The goal is to provide a useful narrative to help the children understand. After this conversation, I suggest asking the children for their questions and answer those, rather than overwhelming them with too much information.
Reassure them. Children need to be reassured they will still have contact, that they are loved, that the divorce is not their fault and have adequate information about the expected impact on their lives.
Provide emotional support for the children. Help them express their feelings by listening and encouraging, allowing them to honestly talk about their struggles. Help them to accept what can’t be changed rather than trying to “make up for” what has happened. Help them problem solve and practice solutions to their challenges.
Do not make a child your confidante. When parents expect children to listen to their troubles and seek validation and comfort, this puts the child in an inappropriate role and has long term consequences. Children need parents to be there for them, not the other way around. Use friends and family or a support group for your needs.
Don’t disparage the other parent. It is okay to clear up misconceptions, but not okay to be name calling or blaming. No matter what your ex-partner does or did, the children will be in a loyalty bind between the two of you. It is crucial to encourage open lines of communication that are not coloured by personal opinion and experience.
Stay connected. Keep in regular contact with your children. Stay aware of their successes and challenges, friends and activities. Participate as much as you can and when you are together be fully present to your child. Healthy and loving relationships are built on emotional connection, trust and reliability.
Do not use children to gain or relay information. This puts children in a very uncomfortable position if their parents don’t talk directly and instead try to get information from or ask the children to relay information. If they comply, the children then bear the brunt of the anger or frustration related to the message. Children and teens may misinterpret or forget some of the information so the message can become mixed up possibly fostering feelings of anger, frustration or betrayal.
Divorce is an attachment breach. As I have discussed in other blogs, attachment is key to our well-being for children as well as the adults. Divorce is also very stressful. Therefore, children may have trouble sleeping, regress in behaviors, problems with concentration, school, and feel sad or angry. They may get into trouble at school, turn to alcohol or drugs, isolate, become anxious, depressed or consider suicide. If these symptoms are severe or last longer than a few months it is worthwhile to seek professional help and guidance for the child and parents.