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Helping Your Children Through Divorce

 

Divorce is often more devastating for the children than it is for the parents. It is a time of confusion, anger, uncertainty, sadness, fear and guilt. But you and your spouse can significantly reduce the negative effects of divorce--or at least keep from making them worse--by observing the following suggestions.

Together, you and your spouse should tell your children about the divorce. Answer their questions calmly, honestly, and without blaming or demeaning each other. Let the children know that both of you are very sad that your marriage did not work out as you had dreamed--this will give your children permission to mourn, because your divorce represents a significant loss for your children. See Telling Your Children About The Divorce.

Reassure the children by telling them that they did not cause the divorce. Explain that the problems are between you and your spouse, and that both of you tried everything you could think of to settle your differences, but getting divorced is the only solution to your problems. Also let them know that your decision is final, and that you will not be changing your minds; as long as the children think there is any hope for restoring the marriage, they will go to great lengths to reunite you and your spouse. Instead, help your children to focus on adjusting to a new life in the future.

Tell your children that you will always be their parents and that you will never abandon them or stop loving them. Give them your permission and your encouragement to love the other parent, even though you will be living in different homes. Children need both parents, and should not be made to choose between them.

Be honest with your children. Prepare them for the many changes to come. Explain that everyone--including you and your spouse--will be affected by these changes. Children usually feel helpless when their parents are getting divorced, so where appropriate, invite your children to make suggestions with respect to matters that directly affect them, such as which night of the week might be the best one to spend with the non-residential parent. However, do not make children responsible for major decisions because such decisions often involve favoring one parent over the other.

Continue to be parents. Do not try to become best friends or "allies" with your children in an effort to influence their positive feelings for you at the expense of your spouse (the children's other parent!). Do not use money, gifts, or grand promises to win your children's affection or to ease your guilt about the divorce. Maintain the same rules, restrictions, expectations and consequences in both households. More than anything, your children need the reassurance, guidance and structure that only a parent can provide. Children can adapt to the changes brought about by the divorce, but they will never be able to overcome the loss of a parent's love and advice.

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