As a Child Specialist, I have great compassion for the impact that the process of divorce has on families. Parents are not only navigating their own loss and grief, but are intensely protective and concerned for their children’s well being and healing. In many cases, parents have varied views about the effects on their children, one praising the resilience and happiness they observe and hear from them, while the other fears that irreparable damage has been done throughout the divorce.
When I meet with children, I often learn that it is somewhere in between. Children are not unaffected, but may deal with multiple emotions of guilt, sadness and anger that they are reluctant to share to protect their parent or prevent added conflict. However, they can explore and express these in therapy and/or with their parents as a part of the grieving process. while envisioning new and different ways of being in their family, moving forward.
Below are some helpful ideas written from a child’s perspective for parents to consider as they are creating new ways of interacting with each other and their children during divorce:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Here is a list of helpful ideas to help me manage the divorce:
Always remember I love both of you.
Even though you may not get along, I feel torn apart when you talk badly about the other parent.
Respect that I am grieving. This divorce is a loss for me and I may go through many stages as I adjust to our new family.
Create a special place for me at both homes, no matter how long I spend there. I might like a photo of my other parent and me to comfort me when I miss them.
Be careful of where you have adult conversations about the divorce and each other. Hearing about fighting and money create more worries for me- about myself and the safety of our family.
Ask me questions about my time away from you. Help me not to feel guilty about leaving you and having fun with the other parent.
Ask my other parent if you have questions about their new relationships or other private things. Secrets and spying make me feel anxious and disloyal.
Encourage me to call or text my other parent when I am with you. Help me schedule a routine at bedtime or before school. This helps me stay connected to both of you.
Keep talking to each other about me! I feel very responsible about your reactions when I carry notes or messages between you.
Help me prepare for transitions with routines and special things that comfort me at both homes, such as a journal or favorite stuffed friend.
Agree on what rules I have at both homes. It will be much harder for me to fight about bedtime if both of you agree.
Attend my school and fun activities with me. It makes me happy that you are both sharing in something that is important to me.
Try to create as many opportunities for me to see you! Be flexible if my other parent has occasional requests to change our time together.
Protect me from your adult feelings. I am aware that you are often sad and mad too, and I feel very responsible to take care of you.
Find caring adults to support and listen to you. When you are healthy and happy, I feel happier too!