Rarely do children want their parents to divorce. But when divorce is inevitable how do the children view it? What do they really want to know or not know? Where do they want to live? How much input should they have in decision making? These questions often arise in mediation or any divorce.
Children may ask many questions about your divorce, they may want to know whose “fault” it was. They may even blame themselves. It is important to remember that while children have these questions, the answers may not actually be what they want to or should hear. They should not know that a parent had an affair or did something else to irreparably damage the marital relationship. They should know that nothing they did caused the divorce. This applies to children of all ages.
It is best for you and your spouse to discuss how to tell the children about the divorce and what you will say. Come up with a plan “a party line” and stick to it. You may wish to consult with a mental health professional on how and when to best approach your children with this news. Don’t let a moment of anger or frustration with the other parent get the best of you and say something to your children that you will regret and that may harm their relationship with the other parent.
Children want to be reassured that both parents still love them and will remain an integral part of their lives. Children also want to be free to love both parents. It is important that parents give their children the ability to do so. For instance, if the children go with Dad for the weekend and go see a fun movie or go to the beach, when they get back to Mom’s they naturally want to share that information with Mom. If Mom’s reaction is disinterest or anger, the children will soon learn that having fun with Dad does not make Mom happy and will feel badly about it. They may stop sharing with Mom or may even tell her what a bad time they had with Dad just so she won’t feel bad. Try to share your child’s enthusiasm and be glad they have two parents that love them, even if you no longer care for the other parent.
Court orders generally state that neither parent should make disparaging remarks about the other parent and should make every effort to prevent other people from making disparaging comments about the other parent in the presence of the children. It is natural to want to vent your anger, frustration and disappointment about the other parent and your relationship with them. Just do it with friends, relatives or a mental health professional when the children are not in listening distance.
Children want to spend time with both parents. How much time should depend on numerous factors. Work and school schedules, extra-curricular activities, the ages and developmental stages of your children, the personality of each child, proximity to each other, schools and work. Don’t ask your children to determine the schedule or to choose who they want to live with. To a child this feels as if they are be asked to choose which parent they love best. They love them both, they don’t want to choose. Tell they children “Mom and Dad will work out a schedule and let you know.”
Children also do not want to worry that any time their parents are in close proximity to each other a fight will break out. For example at a sporting event, open house, school play or even when you drop off or pick up the children for your parenting time. This causes the children anxiety and embarrassment. If you and your spouse need to speak about a difficult issue, do so away from the children. If you can’t spend time around each other without a argument developing, takes turns attending the children’s activities and professional appointments and arrange for separate parent teacher conferences. Let these times be relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your children.
Children can do well in a divorce, but they take their cues from their parents. If you can cope with the difficult issues of divorce in a positive manner, your children will too.