When you become a parent, your children become your world. You want to shield them from every danger, every hurt. You want them to have only the best things in life. You want to give them a world of joy.
But what if the one thing you can’t give them is the one thing they may want most in this world — a happy home? Divorce is never to be entered into lightly. Marriage is a covenant, one not easily broken. Sometimes, however, no matter how hard you try, it just can’t work out. Some rifts simply cannot be mended.
How do you help your children to understand that sometimes it is better to find peace apart than war together? How do you help them mend? How do you return them to the joy they deserve?
When It’s Over, Let It Be Over
Chances are, if you and your spouse have decided to divorce, it has been a long time coming. There have likely been a lot of wounds inflicted, and incurred, on both sides. So, once the decision has been made, don’t prolong the battle. Put an end to the warfare, and, above all, don’t use your children as weapons.
Many couples pursuing a divorce start out vowing to part amicably, particularly “for the sake of the children,” only to devolve into a seemingly never-ending cycle of bitterness and hostility. If you feel this is happening between you and your spouse, then leave the communications to a third party, such as divorce attorney or family mediator someone who can advocate for your best interests and, especially, those of your without introducing World War III into your children’s lives.
On the other hand, if you and your spouse are still able to communicate well and reasonably, then you may choose not to involve a lawyer or outside mediator. This is a great strategy for eliminating unnecessary disruptions or added anxiety in your children’s lives, but only if you and your spouse are able to come to terms in ways that are fair to and respectful of all sides.
No matter what may have led to this ending, remember that the spouse you are divorcing is also your child’s parent and the person you once loved. Your children deserve to see this phase of their lives conclude with dignity and honor, even as you shepherd them into the next stage, as you and your ex-partner help your children redefine what it means to be a united family.
Teach Them It’s OK Not to Be OK
No matter how smooth the process, divorce is still a loss, and your children — and you — will go through a mourning process. It’s important to help your children learn to acknowledge and face their pain not run from it.
Just as you wouldn’t let your kids go online without teaching them about the potential dangers, or let them drive a car without warning them against inattentive driving, you also don’t want to let them go through the divorce process without teaching them how to monitor and care for their own emotional health. This is an important opportunity to teach them about the hidden signs of depression and anxiety, both in themselves and others.
Above all, this is a chance to open a dialogue and allow them to express all the fear, anger, uncertainty and, yes, perhaps even a bit of relief, that they may be experiencing. Even more important than talk, though, is action. Model for your children the kind of honesty you hope to see in them. Share your sadness as well as your strength. They will learn as much, if not more, in watching what you do as in listening to what you say.
Build New Traditions, but Also Honor the Old Ones
One of the most significant challenges children face as they cope with their parents’ divorce is figuring out how to feel about their past while moving productively forward into a very different, often unexpected, future. Your children may wonder what happens now when Christmas or birthdays roll around. There is a reason, after all, that depression spikes around the holidays for both children and adults.
They may feel like they have to hide the fact that they miss the old traditions. They may think the family can never truly celebrate another occasion happily together. Try to reassure them that a divorce does not mean that the family is fractured and that you will never again be united to share a happy moment.
Preserve as much as you can off the old family traditions. This will be a comfort to them, and to you, as you find a sense of continuity in this time of change. As for what can’t be preserved, use this as an opportunity to create new traditions in celebration of a new life. Take your sons out to start a new tradition of a Thanksgiving football game in the backyard. Make tree-trimming a Christmas eve night ritual with your daughters.
Show them, ultimately, that there are better days to come. Remind them at every turn that they are not and will never be alone. Demonstrate in word and deed that, though the marriage may have ended, the family remains.