“I had a really good childhood up until I was nine; then a classic case of divorce really affected me.” –Kurt Cobain
A divorce is a difficult experience for adults to endure and often even more traumatic for children to accept. Children often do not understand the reasons why their once loving mother and father are getting divorced. Suddenly, the lives they once knew with both parents in their lives daily are gone. Their stable home life with both parents is no more. They may be consumed with confusion and, in some cases, may even blame themselves for their parents’ divorces. These “I’m to blame” feelings must be addressed by the children’s parents as soon as possible to reassure the children that the divorce is not their fault. Unfortunately, parents too often postpone talking to their children about divorce for the task is not an easy one.
Children of divorcing parents need to “hear” from their parents about the reasons for the divorce. Therefore, communication between divorcing parents and their children is crucial to establishing the emotional stability of children after divorces. The discussions with children are not easy, and most parents feel inadequate in the means to present the topic of divorce and to explain the reasons for a divorce.
Some strategies to support parents in discussing the divorce process with their children are as follows:
- Both parents should be present during the first talks with their children about divorce; they should present a unified effort of explanation and reissuance. Later, however, children may feel the need to speak with each parent privately. Certainly, parents should meet each child’s personal needs and address his or her concerns in future conversations, if needed.
- Each parent should give his or her reasons as to the decision for the divorce to the children. They should not make any “fault-finding” statements or take personal “jabs” at each other. Most importantly, parents should keep in mind that they are divorcing each other; they are not divorcing from the children.
- Each parent must reassure the children that the divorce is not the children’s fault on any level.
- Both parents should be calm and collected and should present a positive (and loving) attitude during the discussion about divorce with their children.
- Both parents should be “listeners” and allow the children to ask as many questions as they desire. Parents’ answers should reflect information that will reassure the children that they are going to be taken care of and that they still have both a “mom” and a “dad” who love and care deeply for them. Children need to know that they will still be important to both parents.
The above suggestions are, by no means, the “total solution” to explaining divorce to children. Parents know which strategies work best with each child. Each family is different. However, the two main goals for all parents who are divorcing should be (1) to assist their children with coping with divorce and (2) to continue to support their children in a manner that best addresses their needs. Family life does not end with a divorce.