Resources and Tips for Families Going Through a Divorce
Divorce has become increasingly common in the United States: By some estimates, almost 50% of marriages in the United States will end in divorce. The effects of divorce on family can be highly traumatic for all parties involved. However, it can be even worse for the kids caught up in a divorce, who are more likely to suffer problems, including mental illness, loss of social contacts, delinquency, and bad performance in school.
Here’s the good news — if handled properly, parents can mitigate the effects of divorce on the family. It requires effort, but partners who put their issues aside and work together can minimize the family challenges associated with divorsce.
Here are some tips on minimizing the emotional turmoil your children experience during a divorce.
Tips for Explaining Divorce to Your Kids
Explaining divorce to your children can be one of the hardest aspects of a divorce. Fortunately, there are ways to explain it to your children to minimize their questions and ensure their emotional health. For example:
- Make sure to do so in an age-appropriate way. Different-aged kids will have different questions, and you should consider the best way to explain what is happening to your children.
- If possible, explain together. Taking this approach will ensure that you present a united front as parents, which will be very important to your children’s emotional upbringing as their lives begin to change.
- Make sure your kids know that you will both continue to prioritize their needs over everything else and work together as parents to ensure they are healthy and happy.
- Emphasize to your kids that these things happen to adults, but it is because of your own relationships, not theirs. Kids can often fear that they somehow drove their parents apart. Make sure your kids understand that they had nothing to do with the divorce and that this is not their fault.
- Your kids will likely have many questions, and while these questions may not be immediately present, they will be over time. Ensure that you can answer these questions as completely as possible. The last thing your kids need is to think that you and your ex-spouse somehow hide information from them. Be as upfront and honest with them as possible.
Prioritize Kids’ Emotional Health
As noted above, kids whose parents get divorced are more likely to suffer from emotional problems after a divorce. Sadly, the emotional health of children often suffers from the effects of divorce on family. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
- Watch for signs of depression, bad behavior, poor test grades, or other behavioral changes and challenges. Make sure you work with your children’s school to see how they are doing and what you may need to do to better address problems.
- As much as possible, keep your kids’ lives “normal.” If you can, attend events with your co-parent, and make sure your kids know that you can continue to work together.
- Check on your kids regularly, and show them even more attention than you did already. Coordinate your observations with your ex-spouse, and make sure you are on the same page about your child’s behavior. Also, address their needs with adults who work with your kids, like their teachers, and make sure that they are not observing any troublesome behavior that may indicate major problems.
- You are there to help your kids — not the other way around. Never complain about your co-parent. Never look to your kids to be your therapist!
Keep Arguments and Discussions Private
Conversations with your ex-spouse can get emotional. However, you need to do whatever you can to keep these discussions private, particularly if your kids are younger, lest the effects of divorce on family be particularly problematic. While conflicts are normal, you do not need to involve your children.
Make a pact with your ex-spouse: Your kids will continue to come first. This means that you will keep conflicts and arguments as private as possible. It also means that you will both strive to minimize conflict in general and pledge that you will handle these arguments in a calm, mature, and responsible way. Above all, never complain about your ex to your child, and never “poison” them against their parent. Remember, the best way that you can care for them is to ensure that they know that they have two parents who love them, care for them, and will do whatever it tao keep them happy and healthy.
Consider Therapy for the Kids
Even the most well-adjusted of children will struggle to adapt to divorce. This makes sense, of course. Depending on the child’s age in question, when you get a divorce, they will experience wholesale changes in their lives, including moving, disruption of school routines, changes in economic circumstances, and more. Your job is to minimize the effects of divorce on the family, including disruptions to their lives.
In many cases, therapy is recommended for the children of a divorce, particularly if the divorce occurs in unpleasant circumstances. Therapy can help kids in many ways, including:
- Helping ensure that kids know that they are not the ones responsible for the end of the marriage.
- Addressing any fears or trauma that the divorce may have stirred up.
- Teaching kids coping mechanisms for their divorcing parents gives them a better idea of managing the fears and anxieties that their parent’s divorce has stirred up and learning unhealthy relationship patterns resulting from the end of their parent’s marriages. But, unfortunately, kids of divorce are more likely to get divorced themselves.’
Therapy may not be necessary for all circumstances, particularly if the parents who are getting divorced both continue to act like adults, put conflict aside, and ensure that they care for their shared custody productively. Unfortunately, there are many instances where it may be necessary. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, and you should work with your kids to ensure that they know that help is available to them if they need it.
Family Grieving Tips and Resources
Grief can be a powerful factor in any family circumstance, but when combined with the challenges of a divorce, it can make an already painful situation even worse. As such, an individual who has experienced a divorce — and then grief — must ensure that they take special care to deal with the particularly unique and painful circumstances they are undergoing.
First, all parents should ensure that their child knows that grief, sadness, and anxiety are all normal and healthy reactions. There is no “right” reaction when it comes to grief, even for a parent who was less-than-kind or with whom a child does not have a healthy relationship. All children should know that they are free to express themselves.
Children should also be comforted knowing that the grief they are experiencing after a divorce is normal, healthy, and will take time to overcome. They should know that whatever they are experiencing is a normal and expected sensation and that they don’t need to stress or pressure themselves to move on. This will occur when they are ready, and it will unquestionably take time.
As a parent, you may experience grief as well. This makes sense, of course, as the life you thought you would be experiencing has suddenly changed dramatically. While you have to always ensure that you are an adult and that you do not lash out at your children for whatever pain you are experiencing, there is nothing wrong with telling your kids that you are in pain. Of course, they must do this in an age-appropriate way, but your children should know that you, too, are experiencing pain. However, rather than emphasizing your own issues, emphasize how you manage them and let your kids know that you will be okay. This will give them a positive therapeutic role model and help let them know that recovery is possible.
Make Self Care a Priority
At the end of the day, you have to heal yourself and not allow the effects of divorce on family to spread to you personally. This means that self-care must be a priority. However difficult it may be, make sure that you take the time to care for your own physical and emotional needs. This may mean relying on those around you o take the kids so you can relax for a day. It may also mean that you need to find a therapist to help address your needs.
Addressing your health is essential for many reasons. First, the most obvious — you can’t care for your kids if you are not yet in a position where you are emotionally and physically healthy. Things will only get worse if you fail to engage in self-care properly.
However, just as important is this — your kids must know that taking care of their own emotional needs is healthy, important, and worth investing time and energy in. If you care for yourself, your kids will see that they should care for themselves, too. You can be an emotional role model to your children by managing your own emotional needs.
Signs of Serious Problems to Watch Out For
Unfortunately, the effects of divorce on family can have negative emotional changes on kids. These changes can cause them much pain and set them up for extensive problems later in life. As such, you should keep an eye out for major problems. These include:
- A sudden and dramatic drop in performance at school
- Social changes or abrupt changes in friends
- Behavioral outbursts or spouts of violence
- Physical symptoms that are otherwise unexplained, like headaches or stomachaches (these are particularly common among younger kids, who may lack the words to describe what they are otherwise feeling)
If your child shows any of these signs, you may want to consider reaching out to their school or your ex-spouse to see if they see these challenges. In addition, the circumstances may require that you enroll your child in therapy to ensure that they are getting the help they need.
If you are in the process of divorcing, you may find that you have any questions about the best way to proceed as a parent and may be on the lookout for a variety of other potential issues that your children may be experiencing. Fortunately, remember, you are not the first to experience these issues. Doctors, religious leaders, and teachers may be able to give you advice on how to proceed or at least insight into your child’s behavior.
Additionally, you can find more information at all of these websites:
- Nationwide Children’s is a website with various information on managing the divorce and explaining the situation to your children.
- Sesame Street in Communities provides parents and children with tips on managing the aftermath of a divorce together.
- Healthy Children is a website managed by pediatricians that offers resources on how to support children following divorce. It comes with books for kids that can help them learn about their experiences and feelings and how to manage these issues.
- Child-Focused Choices, which has books and guides on how to help parents co-parent and explain divorce to their kids.