Telling the Children You Are Getting Divorced
Telling the children that Mommy and Daddy are getting a divorce draws a line in sand. Now, everyone -- Mom, Dad and children -- all know where they stand, and very often have no idea where they are going. Telling the children is one of the many very difficult bridges that divorcing spouses must cross. Plainly, children must be told, if for no other reason than knowing of the break between their parents is the first step in accepting this dramatic change in their life.
Depending on the family situation, children sometimes sense that their parents do not get along, and depending on the age and experience of the children, they may actually anticipate the divorce even when they cannot understand all its ramifications.
Research suggests that children reared in a high conflict home filled with verbal abuse and physical violence fare worse than children reared in a tension-free environment. For this reason, children may be "better off," so to speak, after their parents divorce than before. Nevertheless, the day his or her parents tell a child that they are parting ways will be traumatic.
Children can grow and thrive in a divorced home, provided they are under the right parental conditions. One of the first ways that a parent can help a child is by telling him or her about the divorce. A divorce affects children of all ages.
Following are some tips on telling the children:
Common Questions and Answers
Q. What is a great mistake parents make when telling a child about a pending divorce?
A. Trying to enlist the child as an ally or spy. Children love both parents by the entirety. A child asked to take sides faces divided loyalties that can tear him or her apart.
Q. What must a parent do when telling a child that a divorce is in the works?
A. A divorcing spouse must reassure the child 1) that he or she is still loved; 2) that the parent is leaving the spouse but not the child; 3) that the breakup is not the result of anything he or she did.
Q. What should a parent most avoid in telling a child about a divorce?
A. Trapping the child in the middle. Even under the best conditions, children suffer enormously when their parents divorce. Everyone knows stories of children caught in the withering crossfire of battling spouses, children who become proxies in a contest of vindication in the wake of failed marriages, children used as weapons or held hostage by parents who cannot stop fighting even after a marriage is over.
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THE DON’Ts – Good parenting through divorce has a dimension that is negatively defined. Good divorced parents do not speak badly or make accusations about the other parent in front of a child. They do not force a child to choose sides, or use a child as a messenger or go-between, or pump a child for information about the other parent, or argue or discuss child support issues in front of a child. In short, they do not use a child as a pawn to hurt the other parent.
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