By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT
The trauma of divorce is greatly compounded when children are involved. Which makes breaking the divorce news to your kids a subject not to take lightly. Preparing for this tough conversation is vital and brings up many important questions: How and when should we broach the subject? How much should we share during and after initial conversation? How will our children react? How do we handle their questions? What do the experts recommend?
As author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? I know the anxiety parents feel when having this crucial conversation. No one wants to make errors they will regret. Yet too often I see the same mistakes made – mistakes than can have long-term effects on innocent children for years to come. Here, in brief form, are six of the most important mistakes that every parent should avoid.
• Bashing your ex to or around the kids. When you speak disrespectfully about your children’s other parent the kids are often hurt and riddled with guilt and confusion. Their thinking is, “If there’s something wrong with Dad or Mom, there must also be something wrong with me for loving them.” This can result in damaging your own relationship with your children, as well.
• Fighting around the children. Studies show that conflict is what creates the most pain and turmoil for children of divorce. Keep parental battles away from your children – even when they’re sleeping or when you’re on the phone. Hearing adult information robs them of their childhood and boosts their levels of frustration – since they’re helpless to change the circumstances around them.
• Pressuring children to make difficult choices. Most kids feel torn and guilty when asked to choose between their parents. It’s a no-win situation. Don’t put them in that position.
• Failing to tell your kids the divorce is not their fault. Don’t assume your children understand that they are victims in your divorce. Remind them frequently that they bare no blame in any way related to your divorce – even and especially if you are fighting with their other parent about them.
• Confiding information only adults should be aware of. Parents often do this to bond with their children, to win them over or to alienate them from their other parent. This strategy often backfires in later years. Don’t blame your ex for the divorce when talking to your kids, even if you feel it’s justified. It creates an emotional burden that children shouldn’t have to bare. Vent your anger and frustration to your friends.
• Using your children as messengers or spies. Don’t ask and expect your kids to relay messages to their other parent. That’s what online co-parent scheduling programs are all about (such as www.CoparentPlanner.com.) And never turn them into spies, sharing information about their other parent’s life and home. It makes them feel uncomfortable and puts enormous pressure on them. In time, they’ll resent you for it.
Fortunately, there are divorce professionals in your community or online who can help you if you’re not positive about how best to approach your children. Speak to a divorce coach or see a therapist who specializes in this subject. Find an attorney who practices mediation or Collaborative Law, which usually results in more positive, cooperative outcomes. Seek the advice of parenting coaches, school counselors, clergy and other professionals. Don’t forget the many valuable books and articles on this topic.
Whatever you do, prepare yourself in advance when talking to your children. Understand the impact of your words and tone on their innocent psyches. Avoid the mistakes we have discussed. If you think first about the consequences before moving ahead you’ll give your family a sound foundation on which to face the changes ahead with security, compassion and love.
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Rosalind Sedacca is a Divorce & Parenting Coach, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! To learn more about the ebook, visit http://www.howdoitellthekids.com. For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free ezine, coaching services and other valuable resources for parents, visit: www.childcentereddivorce.com.