Remember when the only time we heard about split families was in the fairy tales of old? You know, the ones fraught with tales of evil step-mothers or orphaned children? Any other mention of a split family was done quietly, or at least it was when my parents first separated back in 1979. I recall there being less kids from single-parent families and I remember the awkwardness I felt when kids would ask the usual getting-to-know-you questions. Fortunately, the stigmatization surrounding divorce so common during my own childhood has lessened. It’s not uncommon to come from a split home these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s less uncomfortable for the child who has to do the back-and-forth dance from parent to parent. The cold fact is, divorce and separation are difficult, no matter how you cut it.
For kids, divorce is many things: it’s confusing, it’s depressing, it’s stressful, and for many, there’s a belief that they had something to do with it. Kids need reassurance that they are not at fault, and they need to be provided a sense of stability amidst the turmoil of divorce. Truthfully, it’s up to the parents to create that, and it may require setting aside the personal difficulties with your soon-to-be ex-spouse in order to do so.
Some things you can do are:
- Make sure your kids have regular routines. This helps create stability.
- Try to maintain a working relationship with the other parent–Watching parents in conflict inevitably creates stress.
- Talk to your kids. Not doing can open the door for a slew of other issues, i.e., drugs and alcohol. (There are big feelings to manage, and if a child doesn’t feel heard at home, they will go elsewhere!)
- Tell the truth.
- Say “I love you” — it means more than you realize.
- Talk about what changes they can expect.
- Avoid blaming and show restraint- keep it simple, pointing fingers just creates drama.
- Plan your conversations before you have them.
- Get help if/when you need it. You don’t have to do this alone.