The decision to divorce is followed by many life changes, which can be extremely difficult for children to accept. The biggest struggle for most kids is the idea of splitting their time between two parents and two households. This struggle is intensified when children are consciously or subconsciously asked to choose between their parents. Putting children in this position is psychologically damaging on many levels, especially if they already struggle with fears, insecurities or mental health issues.
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions when it comes to kids and divorce, but there are things you can do to assure them that they don't need to choose between you and their other parent.
- Don't say negative things about your spouse.
As a general rule, you should refrain from mentioning your spouse's mistakes or shortcomings. However, if your child is upset with your spouse, acknowledge your child's pain without judging the other parent. For example, your child is upset because your spouse wasn't able to take him to the park. Instead of insinuating that your spouse is selfish or irresponsible, say something like, "I know you're disappointed, but how about I take you tomorrow after school?
- Don't use your kids as spies or messengers.
Being the messenger for their parents is painfully awkward for kids, especially when the messages aren't very nice. It's even worse to ask children questions about what the other parent said or did. Along with taking the fun out of visits, children who are asked to spy on their parents struggle with long-term guilt and shame.
- Don't argue in front of your kids.
Some people think it's not an argument unless you're yelling or using bad words. They also tend to underestimate children, who understand the nuances behind certain words and actions. While they may not understand everything, kids instinctively know when their parents are not on the same page. This can lead to children feeling like they have to choose one parent over the other.
- Don't criticize or judge what goes on in your spouse's home.
Most spouses move into their own homes before the divorce is finalized. Although it's best to keep the same rules and routines in both households, this is easier said than done. You may have legitimate complaints about how things are done in your spouse's home, but don't voice them in front of your children. If your children feel pressured to agree with you, they may suffer from guilt over "betraying" their other parent.
- Maintain friendly relations with your spouse's new partner.
If you're already living apart, there's a good chance that one or both or you may have started dating. Having to choose between you and your spouse's partner is a terrible position for your children to be in, especially if they have to see this person on a regular basis. For the sake of your children, speak to your spouse's partner in a civil manner, without criticism or blame.