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Protecting Your Children From the Effects of Divorce
Sometimes divorce is inevitable in a relationship, and when children are involved this can make the situation much more emotional and complex. Both parents usually love the children and want what is best for their children, but emotions can at times run high, and the end result is that the children experience irreparable harm. If you are in the midst of a divorce or separation, it should be your top priority to protect your children from the ill effects divorce can cause your children. Children will always be affected by the divorce of parents, but there are things you can do to minimize those effects. It will take great sacrifice and commitment to help your children to get through this situation with the least amount of stress.
I was a child of divorced parents and my parents did not handle the situation very well at all. I was about six years old, the youngest of four children when my parents divorced. I was very close to my father because my mother worked a lot, and I spent more time with my father than I did with my mother at that time. I witnessed my mother experience serious emotional and physical abuse by my father. My father was also very abusive to my siblings, but he treated me differently. I sometimes wonder if he treated me differently because I was the youngest or for some other reason. My siblings were very resentful of me and I never understood this because I was a child, and why would they resent me for the behavior of my father? At times growing up, my mother even showed her resentment for me because I continued a relationship with my father through the years. It was a horrible situation to be in, and I went through a lot of pain and emotional issues that followed me throughout my life because of the divorce of my parents.
From my experience with divorced parents, I thought I should share some of the things parents considering divorce should be aware of to protect their children from the irreparable harm I experienced in my life.
1. PREPARE YOUR CHILDREN IN ADVANCE – It is wise to have a conversation with your spouse regarding how the divorce will be explained to the children. The conversation explaining the divorce should be done with both parents present. Think of it as possibly your last time together as family so this may be very emotional for the children as well as for the two of you, but the children should be told about the divorce before it happens. Children will feel much more safe and secure if they are told in advance what to expect such as, where mommy or daddy will live from now on, will they be able to visit, do mommy and daddy still love each other, does mommy and daddy still love them, will they have to move and leave their friends, and all sorts of questions your children may have. Preparing your children for this divorce will make the transition much easier for them, but it MUST be done together.
2. DON’T ARGUE AND FIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN – This may seem like common sense, but many parents do not realize the damage they are doing to their children by arguing and fighting when the children are present. Children who witness domestic violence are more at risk for growing up to be abusers themselves. Parents sometimes think that children are not paying attention to their fights or that the children are too young to understand so it won’t affect them. This is totally wrong to believe that. I remember things my parents never thought I heard or saw, and I was very, very young. If you have decided to divorce, then there should be no more fighting. If there are disagreements that the two of you can’t resolve, seek the help of an attorney. It is tragic that people aren’t mature enough to sit down and resolve conflict, and would rather let the courts decide their family’s future, but if this is the case so be it. Let the courts decide who is right and who is wrong. Fighting in front of your children is damaging, selfish and shows a lack of maturity.
3. DON’T USE YOUR CHILDREN AS WEAPONS – As angry as your spouse might make you at times, it is a huge mistake to use the children to punish them. Keep your divorce separate from being parents to your children. Your fights should not affect the parenting of the children. You MUST understand that the children love both of you, so keeping the children from a relationship with the other parent is hurting your children. You are being selfish if you deny visitation or nightly telephone calls because you are angry with your spouse. If you claim to love and care about your children, how could you deny them a relationship with their other parent. They may not have been a good husband or wife, but they are still the parent of those children and deserve a relationship with the children just as you do.
4. DON’T SPEAK NEGATIVELY ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE TO THE CHILDREN - When you are with the children, always speak positively about the other spouse. Even if you think they are the scum of the earth, your children do not need to hear that from you. The children will make up their own minds about a parent over time, but by you speaking negatively about your spouse to them makes the children feel uncomfortable. It may make your children feel that they are doing something wrong if they still love and care about that parent. Again, if you say you love and care about your children, you must sacrifice your own feelings for the sake of the children.
5. DON’T INVOLVE YOUR CHILDREN IN YOUR REBOUND RELATIONSHIPS – You may feel like you are free and single now, so you want to date other people. That is a pretty natural reaction to being newly separated or divorced, but remember that your children are now adjusting to a whole new life without mommy or daddy in their lives on a regular basis. Now is not the time for them to have to adjust to a new person in their lives. If you must date, do it in a way that the children are not involved. You don’t want to introduce your children to a new person until you know your children have adjusted to this divorce and they are in a good place. Additionally, you may not be emotionally ready for a new relationship either. My advice would be to take time to adjust to the divorce, and making sure your children are adjusting before you embark on a new relationship. That is the mature and responsible thing to do. Remember, this all about the children, NOT YOU.
6. HAVE A HEALTHY, FRIENDLY RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SPOUSE – This will go a long way in helping your children to adjust to this divorce. If you are mature and responsible adults, you should be able to attend the children’s school plays together, take them to an amusement park, movies, or dinner together without bickering and fighting. Children need to see that mommy and daddy are not living together anymore, but they still care about each other, and they both can be together without conflict.
7. KEEP SPOUSE INFORMED – You have to remember that your spouse has now moved out of the house away from the children. They are used to seeing their children every day and now the children are gone and their lives seem empty. It is so important to keep the other parent informed of every milestone, daily school reports, and everyday things that happen with your child that you take for granted because you see them every day. Just imagine if your children were gone from your life. You would want to know everything they are doing every day. Your spouse feels the same way. Stay in constant contact with your spouse regarding the children by keeping them informed of what is going on in their child’s life. It’s important to your spouse and your child.
Divorce is never a pleasant experience, especially when children are involved but it doesn’t have to do a lifetime of damage to your children either. What makes the effects of divorce so damaging to children is the selfishness of some parents to think of only their own needs instead of the needs of their children. Children need both parents in their lives to adjust to the divorce of their parents. Keep in mind that this is not about you; it’s all about the children.