Guest post by Fiona McGlynn
Divorce can be a very confusing and emotionally fraught time for kids and parents alike. Based on my experience as an adult child of divorce, here are 5 ways to support your child through divorce.
Deal with yourself first
Consider how you relate to divorce. Is divorce a shameful last resort, something that only bad parents do, a big bad boogieman? If you relate negatively to divorce, alarm bells go off in your child’s head saying, “Uh oh – something must be TERRIBLY wrong ‘cause mom is upset!” Through your reactions, they’ll learn that divorce is a bad and scary thing. Divorce is a contractual agreement – it is morally neutral (not good nor bad). Try to see divorce and express divorce in the most neutral terms possible. Also, reach out to family, friends, and counselors to get the support you need so that you can be fully present to support your child.
Be clear about what is happening
Clarity about what is happening will reduce stress on everyone. Take time to introduce new words and ideas. If you choose to use the word “divorce”, ensure you explain it in detail. Many kids have previously heard the word in a negative context. Together visualize what changes will take place; when and how the future will look. With all the changes going on it’s important to create a structure for how those changes will take place. Create a calendar with your child so they know which house they will be staying at on a given weekend. Better yet give them ownership and let them write down the plan in the calendar. In a separate notebook, write down answers to the questions that come up (“Which toys will I keep at daddy’s house?”) Writing details down can reassure children that things are taken care of.
Teach your child not to confuse their surroundings with who they are
Human beings often internalize what is going on around them. Teach your child how to distinguish between the events in their life (parents getting divorced) and all of the stuff they make up about it in their head (“They must not care,” “Our family is broken,” etc). Explain to your child that as human beings we like to make up stories in our heads about what is going on in reality and that sometimes we confuse those stories with what is actually happening. Provide examples and ask your child what stories they might have created about different areas in their life: school, friends, and family.
Give your child a voice and communicate authentically
Ask your child: “How do you feel about living in two homes? What do you think this divorce means about our family? What do you think this divorce means about you?” Listen to what they are saying without trying to fix it. You can gently point out where you see their beliefs not matching up with reality (e.g. “Divorce does not mean our family is broken.”) Be very present in these conversations. When you’re busy feeling worried and guilty you’re not listening to your child. Your head is full of “I’m such a bad parent” and you’re missing opportunities to support your child. Tell them how you’re feeling (they probably already know). Important caveat: don’t blame anyone for anything in your communication! You could say, “Thank you for telling me you feel sad. Sometimes I feel sad about the divorce too. That’s a really normal thing to feel when life changes very quickly.”
Keep the doors open
Communicate that divorce will be a series of conversations and let your children know that they can always ask questions. Remind them that you want to hear about any emotions that come up (especially the sad/angry ones) and that you’re always there to listen.
Fiona McGlynn is the author of children’s book “i and the Great Divide”. Fiona is a child of divorce and wrote “i and the Great Divide” to leave children in divorce feeling loved, peaceful, and self-expressed.
To learn more about “i and the Great Divide” go to www.iandthegreatdivide.com or purchase on Amazon. For the latest updates, see Facebook page, Google+ page, or follow the author on twitter.