If you thought your ex spouse had the ability to defrock you in one sentence or to befuddle you with a single word, you probably already know that children can do the same. Children are pure, unfettered, innocent creatures that tell it like it is. And sometimes we don’t fully appreciate what they tell us.
When my ex-husband and I told our girls, ages 6 and 9, about our imminent split, they rapid-fire questioned us. Despite my career of training as a divorce lawyer, these were some of the hardest cross-examination questions that I could have imagined:
- Are we still a family? (they started easy at least)
- “Is Dad going to be more like an uncle now?”
- “When are we getting a stepmom or stepdad?”
- From my six year-old, with a disgusted look on her face: “Are you now EX’s?”
- “Why did this have to happen?”
- “If this is a good choice, then why are you sad?”
- “Do we have to choose which parent we like better?”
- This zinger directed at me, “I thought divorce lawyers are NOT allowed to get divorced!”
- “Can we call/see you both whenever we want?”
- “Is this going to last forever?”
While there are no perfect answers to these questions, these ten questions spoken from the mouths of babes, grant insight into the worries of children after learning that their parents are getting divorced and separated. For the record, my ex-husband and I followed a strict script of how to approach discussing divorce with your children from a preeminent family lawyer, Gay Cox and an amazing Ph.D. who works with divorcing families and children on a daily basis, Dr. Honey Sheff. http://www.dontfightaboutit.com/tips_for_parents.pdf. (called “Tips for Parents Engaged in the Collaborative Family Law Process.” Even if you are not divorcing in a collaborative fashion, an artful, well-scripted discussion with your children is an essential tool for your family
so that they can start to grieve and eventually gain closure.
The following is a list of bullet points that I have summarized from the above-mentioned 16-page article about sending the right signs and signals in communicating to your children about a divorce in a healthy way:
- Avoid blaming the other parent.
- Emphasize and work to show the children that everything will remain the same, stable life during and after divorce.
- Show love and empathy to the children. Answer their questions.
- Assure the children that both parents will always love them and be there for them.
- Contrast the love between Mom and Dad from the love of sisters, friends, other family. (Mom and Dad love is romantic and could end; Mother-child or Father-child love will never end).
- Avoid having difficult arguments in front of the children to minimize conflict.
- Encourage your children to have a positive and healthy relationship with the other parent.
- Do not involve your children in parental decision-making.
- Be consistent with disciplining your children so that they cannot manipulate the parents.
- Let kids be kids: do not put them “in the middle” or make your child a messenger.
- Be a positive role model- the kids are always watching and mimicking our behaviors.
- Maintain flexibility, even if it hurts.
- Always choose your children’s needs above your own.
- Remember that the only consistent thing in divorce is change: bend with the change.
- Finally, just remember that childhood is precious and as a parent you are the keeper of memories and guardian of you little one. Let’s preserve our kids’ child-like hearts forever.