When faced with the reality of divorcing parents, many children internalize the struggle between the parents. They are usually not privy to the countless closed-door disagreements and difficulties that may have existed for years. Instead, children will often turn inward, blaming themselves for their parents’ inability to get along, and, ultimately, for the divorce. While you and your spouse may understand that it is not your child’s fault, it is your responsibility to make sure that your child comes to understand as well.
Talk Openly, but Carefully
If it is at all possible, you and your spouse should talk to your child together about your impending divorce before it becomes a reality. The two of you need to make clear that the divorce is based on issues between the adults; your child did not cause it and your child cannot fix it. It is also important to be age-appropriate when considering what details to share with your child. For example, the challenges of raising children may have, in fact, contributed to the breakdown of your marriage. Your first-grader, however, may interpret that as being to blame by nature of his existence.
Once your child knows about your divorce, it is important not to place expectations on him or her regarding how to handle the news. Everyone—adults and children—will need to deal with the situation in their own ways. Do not ask your child to keep secrets; instead, share only as much as you would be comfortable with other people knowing. Do not demand your child talk to you; rather, provide safe environment for him or her to express feelings and concerns without judgement or consequences.
You may, however, demand honesty. Hiding problems and issues or lying about them will only make the process more difficult for everyone involved. By combining this with the “do nots” listed above, your child will come to realize that he or she does will not be forced to talk, but when he or she is ready, communication must be honest so that it can be addressed appropriately, if needed.
In turn, you and your spouse must also commit to honesty. Do not avoid the hard questions; your child may feel guilty for asking them. If you do not know the right way to address a concern, do not lie or make something up. Let your child know that you will work on the answer together. Rather than feeling shut down, your child is more likely to feel valued and that his or her problems matter to you. You must also listen to what your child is saying to identify continued self-blame. If and when it comes back up, redirect responsibility back toward the adults. Your child did not cause your divorce and deserves no blame.
If you are considering a divorce, contact an experienced Arlington Heights family law attorney. Our team can help you minimize the negative impact of the process on your children, while assisting you in negotiating a favorable resolution. Call 847-253-3100 today for more information or to schedule a free consultation.