As if you didn’t have enough to worry about during the divorce process, at the forefront is what to tell them while you and your spouse are, shall we say, not seeing eye to eye. The manner in which you both handle matters with your children will dictate how well they fare, and how quickly they will come to understand that although the family unit is splintered, it still exists; all that has changed is that they now have two parents living in two separate residences. That’s the reality of the situation.
Sometimes, in our darkest hour, we forget that children are not mini-versions of adults. They are not equipped to deal with intimate details of the ineptness of your spouse, nor should they be expected to rush in and save the emotional day if one of you is behaving like a victim…but they will. Little kids who don’t have the first idea of what they can possibly do to help, will stay awake at night making plans to try to make things better. This is diametricall opposed to the way children are hard-wired, and causes them an inordinate amount of stress. Wht they are really equipped to do is be who they are…irresponsible, self-centered, selfish, narcissistic individuals who don’t want to be involved in anything that isn’t “fun.” This is normal, and this is exactly how they should be thinking, according to the theory that they are not going to really mature and make consistently good decisions until the age of 23 yers.
So, what do they really care about? Once you drop the bomb (and please do it gently, and with your spouse,e) about divorce, don’t do it without a plan, because they really want to know if everything will turn out all right. This is when you get a free pass on a little fib…even if you don’t know how things will turn out, make them believe that you haee things under control, and everything will be just fine. Have answers to questions such as, Where are we going to live, who am I going to live with, do we have to move, will i still have my own bedroom, can I take the dog, cat, gerbil, bird…Do I have to change schools, Will I still be able to see my friends?
Can you blame them? So far, they have lost any control to save their parent’s marriage, they can’t call a truce for you both, they can’t put you guys in time out…all they can do to allay their fears and anxieties is to gather as much information as possible so they know what to expect in this uncharted territory. Even if you and your spouse can’t agree on anything else, agree on this; your children do not have to suffer emotional anguish. This is comletely within your control, because even with all the unknowns, some things will remain the same. They will always have two parents who love them, they will have old friends, and maybe some new ones, they will survive a move and even a change in schools, and they will not have to live in a cardboard box on the street.
Mostly they want to hear that no matter how much you might disagree with your spouse in the legal arena, tthey can count on you both to be civil, no, make that friendly, outside of court, for the sake of their little psyches. Your job as a parent is to shield your kids from the miseries they will encounter in life for as long as you can, and I suppose sharing a spot on the bleachers with your ex is as good a way as any to begin! Their world is supposed to be happy. Make that the only priority that matters, because waiting too long is waiting too long.
Laurie Elizabeth Murphy, R.N., Ph.D. has raised four children. For the past twenty years she has specifically focused on a clinical practice dealing with marital issues, divorce and its impact on children. She is coauthor with Nadir Baksh of In the Best Interest of the Child: A Manual for Divorcing Parents; You Don’t Know Anything . . .!: A Manual for Parenting Your Teenagers and 8 Strategies for Successful Step-Parenting. Visit her website www.parentingmanuals.com