When parents decide that its time to separate, they are commonly selfish and thinking only of themselves. Obviously, there are quite a few adult components that parents do not share with their children, and it is easy to become wrapped up in how you are affected rather than how your children are coping.
In my experience, kids are great actors. They hide their feelings well, and present a visage of total control and apathy.
“Yeah, my parents are splitting up. I don’t care, though.”
It’s a defense mechanism used by children to deflect their real feelings about the subject. The last thing they want to do is admit vulnerability to their family and friends, so they pretend that nothing is wrong, and that they have no strong feelings about the divorce. If they don’t understand what the separation means, they won’t admit it, because they really don’t want to hear about it anymore.
Whether you know it or not, your children are involved in your divorce. You and your spouse created the children, and you have shared them for however long your kids have been alive. Your fighting, you depression, your anger, and your sadness have been highly visible to your children, no matter how hard you’ve tried to hide it. It’s best that you come to grips with that fact now, and address the situation appropriately.
During divorce settlements, there are lawyers and mediators who protect the parents, but there is no one to represent your children. They may or may not be present in the courtroom, but they know exactly what is going on. Never underestimate your children’s ability to see right through the faÃ?Â§ade. They know about your custody battles and your arguments over Grandma Eunice’s dining room set. They are privy to some of your most private discussions because children are experts at eavesdropping.
This means that you have to take an active role in the “representation” of your children. As I said, there is no way to completely shield them from the nature of your divorce, but you can be proactive in helping your children deal with the situation.
Young Children (ages twelve and younger)
In most divorce settlements, the parents of small children (up to age 10, usually) retain joint custody. The mother will typically be granted primary custody, and the father will have them a few nights a week. With older children, one parent will usually take them most of the time, with visitation right for the other. It is up to you and your ex to determine exactly how the custody will work, because once it is out of the court’s hands, parents must take it upon themselves to act civilly.
I recommend that if your children are over the age of eight or nine, you should ask for their opinion. Do they want to remain at one house more often than the other, because of friends, for instance, or would they prefer to spend equal time with each parent. Don’t make this a weapon to use against your ex, and try to get together with everyone and decide together.
You have to understand that your children have ideas and opinions, and since they didn’t ask for your separation, they don’t deserve to suffer from it.
You should also keep the arguing over the children to a minimum. If you must have a fight about custody or visitation, do it away for the kids’ ears. The last thing you want is for your children to feel that the divorce is their fault, because it isn’t.
When you take your children to your ex’s house for the weekend, or for however long, be civil in conversation and don’t linger if emotions are still running high. You and your ex are going to have to find a way to get along at least until your children are grown because they don’t deserve to be the go-between among their parents.
Saying things like, “When you’re at your Daddy’s, find out if he has that antique figurine he insists got lost,” is unacceptable. Using your children as spies on the other parent will lead to nothing but disaster, and they don’t deserve to be put in that position. Never ask questions about your ex’s personal life when they return to your care – it isn’t your business, and it doesn’t concern you. It could also lead to another day in court when you lose your children for using them.
Older Children (ages 12 – 17)
During and following a divorce, your obstacles with older children are somewhat different than with younger children. Pre-adolescents and teens are better equipped to understand the separation and what it means, and they have less trouble getting used to the fact that their parents are no longer a couple.
There are other problems, however, that are just as serious, and can cause enormous complications. First of all, teenagers especially have lives of their own. They might even have a car, and they like to spend time with friends and participating in extracurricular activities. You can’t expect a teenager to go along with custody shuffles when it interferes with their schedule.
Sit down with your child and talk about what they want to do. Do they have a preference about where they want to live, and do they have questions about what will happen? Caring parents will acquiesce as much as possible to their teenager’s wishes because again, it isn’t their fault that you’ve split up.
There is also the problem of money, which is more of an issue as your child grows up. They have uniforms to purchase, clothes to buy, accessories they want, and cars to drive. One of you – either you or your ex – probably makes more money than the other, and when it comes to your children, it should never be an issue. If you were still together, your salaries would be combined, and they wouldn’t go back and forth trying to figure out who should pay.
If your teenager asks for something that he or she needs, and you aren’t able to pay for it, call your ex. Never say something like, “Sorry, honey, I can’t do it. Ask your father.” If your child must continue to go back and forth trying to meet his or her needs, it will lead to resentment and anger at the both of you.
Hopefully this helps with your divorce situation and your children. If you have further questions, make an appointment with a divorce counselor or a therapist. There is never anything wrong with seeking professional help with problems that are too big or too complicated to handle on your own.