Question: "My husband and I recently decided to end our marriage. We have two kids, and we don't want dealing with the divorce to tarnish the fairytale childhood we've always tried to give them. Is there any way to divorce without hurting the kids?"
Answer: Whether they're young children or teenagers -- or even young adults -- your divorce will affect them. There's no way around that. Divorce is a life-changing event that will leave a lasting impact on all of you. But there are some things you can do to make the transition easier for your kids, so they can accept what's happening and begin to heal:
- Be clear. You may be tempted to ease your kids' pain by being wishy-washy about what's happening. But leading your kids to believe that reconciliation is possible will only hurt them in the long run, because it delays their feeling -- and dealing with -- the divorce head-on. And if reconciliation is possible, pursue it without getting your kids involved. This means going to counseling together and/or dating your ex without telling your kids until you're both sure that true reconciliation will take place.
- Seek help. Join a divorce recovery group like DivorceCare, a twelve-week program designed to help you put the pieces of your life back together during and after your divorce. This step is just as important for your children as it is for you, because when you're on the road to recovery, it will be easier for them to make progress, as well. Consider signing your kids up for DivorceCare's children's program, too, called Divorce Care for Kids (a.k.a. "DC4K").
- Talk about it. Of course you don't want to give your kids all the details, but don't make your divorce some kind of "off limits" topic, either. It's healthy for your kids to ask questions like "Why?" and "Did you try to work it out?" Be honest in your responses without over-sharing or bashing your ex. Remember, too, to respect your kids' boundaries. Treating them like your equals or confiding in them as friends only forces them to subconsciously "choose" one parent over the other, complicating their own recovery process.
- Pay attention. Your kids' world is upside down right now. No matter how much the divorce makes sense to you, they view your relationship and your family life from a different angle. Recognize that the decisions you're making as a couple are devastating your kids' vision of what your family was, is, and will be. And a necessary step in building a new -- perhaps even better -- future is recognizing the impact of what's happened. Be on the lookout for warning signs that your kids need additional help, such as: sudden, unexplained changes in behavior, sleep, school performance, or eating habits.
- Put one foot in front of the other. One of the best ways you can help your kids cope with your divorce is through your example. Show them that the way forward is one step at a time, even when you're facing the most challenging circumstances you can imagine.
As a parent, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to help your kids deal with the divorce and possibly come out of the experience even stronger. It can be easy to forget -- in the midst of all that you're going through -- that the divorce affects them, too. So take a moment to let them know that you notice and can appreciate how hard this is for them, and that you'll be there to help them through it every step of the way.