As Neil Sedaka’s song indicated Breaking Up Is Hard To Do . It’s even more so when it’s a family breakup and children, especially younger children, are involved. Although it’s often a gut-wrenching experience for everyone involved, there are certain steps that parents can take to lessen the pain of their children as they all move through a separation and, more often than not, a divorce.
For starters, both parents should never bad mouth each other in front of their children. In some breakups that can be an especially difficult thing to do, since parents are human and have a strong need to vent their feelings during such an emotionally-trying time. Even so, they should never express hostile feelings for a spouse in front of their children.
After all, that spouse is the other parent of the child (or children). No matter what may have taken place between the separating spouses, their children look at them first and foremost as their parents. Parents are people who protect them, who provide a home for them to grow up in, who teach them right from wrong, who listen and offer advice when the children themselves have their own problems to solve. That relationship exists for as long as the parents and children live. Separation and divorce by parents does not change it.
Parents are also the people closest to children who give them an example of what it means to be married. From their earliest years, through their tumultuous teen years, into their early adult years, chidlren see in their parents models of behavior. Whether they recognize it or not, what they see their parents do will influence how they handle themselves as adults. In short, that compelling fact makes it all the more important that separating parents never speak ill of each other in front of their children.
In connection with that stance, troubled spouses should not attempt to get their children to choose sides between the parents. No one is perfect and the chidlren will very probably have seen (and remembered) instance when each parent was in the wrong and in the right. Consequently, insisting that children choose sides is unfair to them and can cause them unnecessary psychological harm.
Since separations pose immense threats to a child’s sense of well-being, both parents should make an extra effort to maintain a home atmosphere for their children, even though the houses where they’ll be residing may change, due to the separation and/or divorce. A welcoming home atmosphere for children refers to the degree of contentment that they feel being with family members (no matter where the actual physical location) as they go about their daily activities.
In other words, parents should strive to keep their kids’ routines as regular and as much on schedule as possible. Most households see kids with jam-packed schedules, having to go to soccer (or some other sport’s) practice, take music (or dance) lessons, go to part-time jobs, etc. Usually it’s the parents who chauffeur the kids from place to place. If a parent can’t continue to do such tasks, owing to the stress she or he is coping with from the separation, then that parent should make sure that a substitute (i.e. another family member, a friend, a neighbor, etc.) follows through and gets the child(ren) to the proper location on time.
Finally, parents should respond to children’s questions about the separation and/or divorce. Depending upon the age of the child, their answer will have to be tailored to the level of understanding of the child(ren). But, one of the worst things that a parent can do is to say things such as “everything’s fine” or “nothing’s wrong.” Children are not stupid and are particularly attuned to their parents’ feelings.
Consequently, parents should let their children know, in the most neutral language possible, that there is something going on, that , for example, “Mommie and Daddy have a disagreement about how to handle a problem.” Given the ready access that youngsters have to media these days–DVDs, cable TV, movies, video games, etc.–they’re more sophisticated than ever. Some probably know more about domestic relations problems than their parents suspect. After all, kids talk among themselves and they see what’s taking place in their friends’ homes. They very likely have points of reference to assist them in coping with what’s happening within their own family, as parents separate and/or divorce.
However, from their perspective, probably the one thing uppermost in their mind is how their parents’ separation and/or divorce will upset their world. Therefore, it’s critical for parents to be reassuring and make every effort to minimize any disruption in their childrens’ lives as a result of the separation.