Talking to Your Children About Divorce
While this new one-to-one parent-child relationship may need a lot of time to find its way, certain things can be established from the beginning by your example:
- We will not draw other people into disagreements that occur between us.
- We will still be parent and child, but with greater emotional intensity grounded in our new one-to-one relationship.
- We will respect each other’s evolving situation in life.
- We will avoid “loyalty” battles.
- We will give each other a lot of latitude to work things out.
- We will appreciate other relationships in each other’s lives.
- We will take greater responsibility to share our lives with one another.
- We will explore new ways of enjoying time and activities together, fostering new meaningful connections with one another.
Just as you have followed up on the family meeting by checking in with your child, you can to continue to check-in throughout the divorce process and the post-divorce adjustment period. “How are you doing?” Be consistently interested, but not insistently so. Most kids, especially adolescents, deal with divorce issues with their peers. Respect this approach and give it room to happen.
Be prepared for divorce to be a longer-term, recurring concern in your child’s life. Children will explore unresolved issues by asking questions, and may return to these issues as they grow up. A seven-year-old will have certain questions; when he or she is 15, there could be new questions; and when your child is a young adult, there may be still other questions. You can accept this ongoing questioning as a part of your child’s learning about life. Listen carefully, explore the concerns that have given rise to their questions, and be informative, fair and sparing in your answers. Your answer is less important than their freedom to ask questions and come to their own answers. “I don’t know” can offer room for further exploration.
A less obvious way that your children will explore their concerns is through their own relationships. They may replay aspects of your marital relationship with their other parent or, ultimately, with their own romantic partner in an effort to “master” unresolved feelings over the divorce. In these efforts, they will attempt to avoid or rework the pitfalls that they perceived as critical to the breakdown of your own marriage. Your perspective may be of use to them as they try to work things out for themselves.
Finally, you should be aware that children will try to resolve the divorce “inside themselves.” They will identify with both parents and attempt to combine these identifications into their own evolving personality, there by “reconnecting” what was seemingly separated through the divorce. You will want to respect and support this process, particularly if you are able to recognize that you yourself have done something similar since the divorce — balanced your own personality by reclaiming and integrating some of the traits and roles that your spouse had enacted in the marriage.
Stone, R. (2013). Talking to Your Children About Divorce. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/talking-to-your-children-about-divorce/000387