It’s always grim when parents go their separate ways, and it’s particularly hard on the children. Everything gets thrown up into the air – finances, living arrangements and family dynamics -so it’s not surprising that most families describe it as the most stressful thing they ever go through. That said, there are lots of things you can do to make the process as painless as possible.
1. Don’t pretend. Don’t make out that everything’s fine. Children can smell a rat a mile off. If there are problems, it’s best to be open. Divorce is hard enough without having to deal with it as a complete surprise. Honesty is a must.
2. Be discreet. Don’t be indiscriminately open or involve your child in discussions meant for you and your partner. He just needs to know what’s going on. For example: ‘Mum and Dad are having some problems; it doesn’t affect how we feel about you. We’re working hard to sort them out, but one solution might be living apart.’
3. Allow your child to grieve. It can really hurt to hear how your divorce is affecting your child, but you have a responsibility to listen. Be understanding and allow him to vent his frustrations and worries. Don’t be surprised if he has a mission to mend the marriage.
4. It’s not his fault. Children often blame themselves, believing that if they’d just ‘been better’ none of this would have happened. Make absolutely sure that your child knows the divorce is not his fault.
5. Don’t create divisions. Children can feel a conflict of loyalty between two warring parties. Don’t ask your child to take sides. He will want to spend time with both his parents, regardless of who initiated the split.
6. Expect different reactions. Children will react differently depending on temperament and age. Very young children may show regressive behavior, such as clinginess or bedwetting. School-age children may be able to vocalize their feelings more easily, but watch out for ‘silent’ problems, such as truancy, withdrawing or risky behavior.
7. Consider family therapy. Mediation and other types of group therapy can help all members of the family express their feelings and move forwards. Ask your CP for your nearest family counsellor.
8. Don’t close the book. Months or years down the line you and your partner may have moved on, but don’t be surprised if your child hasn’t. Allow him to bring up the subject if there are unresolved issues.
9. Keep it civil. Research shows that children come off worst when parents continue to argue over access. Never criticize your ex in front of your child, even if that person caused the split. Take care not to make your child a go-between; if you need to talk to your ex, do it yourself.
10. Be optimistic. However difficult things get, the situation will eventually settle down. A recent poll by www.insidedivorce.com found that 80 per cent of 10-1 5-year-old were happy with their new family life, and the same number also said things were just as good or better since the separation.
Sheryl Pouls is a home maker and a mother of two,she is a fan of novelist Nicholas Sparks. She lives in Gladwyne.