Divorce isn’t a pleasurable trip for anyone, and more often than not, children get caught right in the middle of it. 

I know, as a parent, you’re often going through an unbelievably painful experience yourself. Even though I watched my Mom spend several years feeling unbelievably sad and pissed and worried about the divorce, at the end of the day she continued to be an amazing support for me. Even if you’re in pain, you owe it to your children to help them through this the best you can.

Your child is going to have challenges. They’re going to feel sad and angry and upset, but I want you to remember, also, that children are resilient, just like you are. The question you need to ask yourself when figuring out how to help your children cope with divorce is this…

Are you going to be a support for their resilience or a hindrance to their resilience?

Before we dive deep, I just wanted to share a quote I found while I was doing some research on children going through divorce. It’s from American Psychological Association.

“Resilience is an ordinary characteristic of individuals, not an extraordinary one.”

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Communication Is Key

Keeping the lines of communication open is key … regarding all sorts of things.

  • If you’re struggling emotionally – let them know. 
    • Let them know you’re trying to get better, but you need time
  • Keep them updated about the living situation and logistical issues
    • Are you going to have to move?
    • Discuss the schedule with them
    • Discuss your budget with them
  • If they want to – give them a chance to share their thoughts and feelings (without inserting your own emotions or thoughts)
    • This one was hard for my Mom.

As far as discussing the divorce itself and the reasons for the divorce, we always get asked that question, “what do we tell our children?” Obviously it’s a very difficult question to answer. But I think there are two key things to keep in mind.

Telling The Kids: Don’t Sugarcoat It

I’m a firm believer that it’s best to be honest with your children. For one thing, most children, except for the very young, will already have a pretty good idea about what’s going on. Especially once they get to early middle school age and older, your child probably already knows what’s happening. Even if they don’t at first, they eventually will. 

Particularly if there is an affair.

Here are some things you could say…

“I could no longer stay in a relationship with someone who would lie and be dishonest with me for years. That is not the type of relationship I could live with any longer.”

“I believe in a monogamous relationship and wanted to make that work. I could no longer be with someone who repeatedly broke that trust and the commitment we made to each other.”

Keep Details Private

It’s definitely important to try to refrain from sharing too many of the unnecessary details. You don’t want to dive into specifics about how you caught your ex in some dingy hotel room with nothing but their birthday suits on while she was tied to the bed and you stormed in and etc. etc. etc.

It’s not necessary to take your children down that path.

This is advice I give most parents: explain your basic reasons for the divorce, but avoid the details. This includes the reasons why you got divorced and what’s happening in the legal proceedings, etc. Your children don’t need to know about all the details about that.

Reassurance: Accept Their Feelings

One thing a lot of parents struggle with, is realizing that their children may be having a very different emotional response than they are. I think for a while, my Mom thought we were all just as emotionally upset at my Dad for the end of the marriage. When in reality, we were experiencing something quite different. 

It was hard because our relationship with our father wasn’t necessarily ending, whereas their relationship was. For awhile, I think it was sometimes hard for her to accept that we could still want to have that relationship.

Let Them Be Upset

It’s natural for your children to be upset, and it is a critical part of starting their own divorce recovery process. They are going to have their own grieving experience and that’s necessary. Give them the time and space to go through that.

Honestly, they will probably say some nasty things to both parents. Try to take it gracefully and let them know you will be there for them.

Consistency Is Critical

Divorce causes an enormous amount of change and upheaval in your children’s life. Which can make it difficult to cope with the new situation.

One of the best ways to help them, is to provide as much consistency as possible, with their routine, with their family, etc.

One thing I always remembered during my parents divorce was that every time I came home from my Dad’s on his Sundays, was my Mom would cook homemade chicken noodle soup. I don’t know why I remember it so well, but I think it made that transition every week easier.

It was something simple, but it was routine, it was consistent. 

Communication

If you are on good terms with your ex, having a consistent set of topics you won’t discuss with your children, or specific responses to certain questions can also make it easier for your children.

Living Situation

Moving, more often than not goes hand-in-hand with divorce. When it comes to your children moving can become especially hard if they have to change schools or have to leave a solid group of friends behind.

If possible try to stay within the same area or school district. That way they aren’t having to change everything all at once.

Have the consistency of their friends or school while all these other changes are happening like moving and new living arrangements can help your children cope with the divorce much easier.

Here are a few key points to help your children cope with their new living arrangements.

  • Never make your children decide who they want to live with.
  • As they get older allow for more flexibility.
  • Be clear about holidays and special events early on.
  • Don’t act like one parent “gets” a holiday and the other doesn’t.
  • Allow for ongoing communication with the other parent while at your place.
  • Establish a routine for exchanges.
  • Try to drop-off children rather than pick them up.

Stay Healthy

Get Help

If you’re struggling with the divorce emotionally and having a hard time keeping it together. One of the biggest things you can do to help your children cope with everything is to get better yourself.

Eventually you are going to have to get to a point and make the decision to say…

“I’m going to get better, I’m going to move on.”

We as children want you to get better, we want you to get back to living your life. To engage in something else besides the divorce, something positive and productive.

And we need you to be someone we can look to for encouragement and inspiration.

Often times this requires you to get help and to reach out to people who have been there.

Interacting With Your Ex

Don’t Use Children As Messengers

Using your child as a messenger is both harmful and burdensome to your children. 

If you need to talk to your ex or tell them something. Be an adult about it and speak to them yourself! Asking your children to do that for you is both lazy and irresponsible but also unhealthy for your children.

You are unnecessarily putting your children in the middle of your conflict. 

You need to communicate directly with your spouse. First of all – you are potentially drawing conversations out that should be concluded in one discussion rather than indirectly through multiple back and forth conversations through your child.

Keep It Cordial

This can be very challenging as a parent, particularly if you were the one who was wronged. 

What I want you to remember, is that your children view themselves as part you and part your ex. So anytime you badmouth your ex, your children could view that as part of themselves.

Your children are your ex’s children too and they deserve to have the opportunity to view both of their parents in a positive light. 

Be courteous and respectful of the other parent – even if they don’t deserve it!

Remember that a supportive co-parenting relationship is probably the single most important factor for helping your children cope with divorce.

Don’t Fight In Front Of Them

I always like to tell the parents I work with to love their children more than they hate their ex. If you can’t set aside your vengeance and hate for a few moments for the good of your children, you might want to reconsider your priorities as a parent.

Keep your children in the front of your mind during interactions with your ex. They should be the most important in the room. Not you or your ex.

A few strategies to help you communicate with your ex.

  • Make requests instead of statements.
  • Practice restraint and focus on what’s important.
  • Approach interactions as a business partnership.
  • Ask their opinion.
  • Listen.

In the end, your children will get through this. The vast majority of children get back to living a normal life in 1 to 2 years after the divorce.

The most important thing you can do is to be a support to their recovery instead of an impediment.

You’ll make mistakes, there will probably be fights, but you and your children will get through this in the end.

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