The divorce process can be emotionally and economically draining on families. Over the years as a divorce attorney in Naperville, Illinois, I have found that the periods before and after the divorce are the most challenging times in my clients’ lives. And, the process of divorce can be particularly difficult for children of divorcing parents.
When children are involved, the ideal scenario is that the divorcing parents are amicable and that they cooperate, not only in the divorce process, but in supporting the children during this time. However, not all divorces are amicable, and in this case it is even more crucial for parents to consider the emotional health of their children before, during, and after the divorce. The following guiding principles should be considered by any parent confronting a divorce.
Principle 1 – Encourage your child to have a positive relationship with your spouse during and after the divorce. Do not allow your child to overhear conversations about your spouse and your divorce, or make negative comments directly to your child about the other parent. It is important that children feel safe and know that both parents love and support them. Treating your spouse with respect and presenting a united front to the children will allow the children to maintain positive feelings toward both parents. If possible, parents should meet with their children together to explain the divorce.
Principle 2 – Explain the divorce to your children as soon as possible. When speaking with your children about your divorce, do so with an age appropriate, honest explanation. At all times, provide assurance that they are loved and the divorce is not their fault, but also explain how the divorce will affect their lives. Will they be moving to a new house? Will they be attending a new school? Children may already perceive that something is not right in their family, and providing these explanations, while difficult, may ease their minds and will allow them to begin processing the information.
Principle 3 – Keep consistency in their lives. Children thrive on consistency and stability. Develop schedules for the kids that are as consistent as possible with how they are currently living. Younger children may benefit from a family calendar that provides a visual reminder of their schedules. This is a “new world” for the children, and by preparing them for the changes in their lives, they will feel more secure.
Principle 4 – Encourage and allow your children to express their feelings relative to the divorce. Changes in behavior and sometimes strong emotions are not uncommon, and should be expected and addressed with understanding by parents. Both parents should express to the children that they are willing and available to talk about the divorce, and for some children with significant concerns, it may be appropriate to allow them to speak with a social worker or therapist.
Adopting these principles as you move through the divorce process, as well as in the months and years following your divorce, will help your children emotionally through this difficult time and protect their relationships with both parents.